Written by Rebecca Fraser-Thill
What’s all this hype about having a mentor?
Today we’ll break it down, one question at a time.
First, the obvious question: is the “mentor search” worth the energy? In a word, yes.
People who have mentors tend to get salary increases and promotions faster than workers who don’t have mentors. Graduate students in psychology report that peers who have mentors meet more influential people, move faster through the program, have a better sense of direction, and present at national conferences more often.
Although men seem to benefit from mentorship more than women do, women are in greater need of mentors because they still occupy fewer high level positions. It’s a shame, then, that Levo League found 95% of Gen Y women have never looked for a mentor.
What Type of Person Isn’t a Good Mentor?
Overstretched people make the worst mentors.
They may seem like they have it all – family, career, local fame – and you want to know how they do it. Since they have so much going on, though, they probably don’t have the time to give you the mentoring relationship you need.
For instance, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, may seem like an interesting mentor given her high-profile career/family juggling, but with all she’s got going on, how much time for mentoring does she actually have?
Who Makes a Good Mentor?
On the flipside, the best mentor may be someone who is just a few years or levels ahead of you in the industry.
You might think they don’t know “enough” but in fact they’re more attuned to your needs because they just went through what you’re facing. Plus, they usually have more time than more senior colleagues to devote to you.
For instance, the guy who is a late draft pick to the Patriots shouldn’t look to Tom Brady for mentoring, but rather to the guy who rode the bench “well” last season.
What Can I Expect of a Mentor?
Let’s start with what NOT to expect: weekly meetings. Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, writes about this in a chapter on mentorship in Lean In:
“That’s not a mentor, that’s a therapist.”
Instead, use your occasional time with your mentor to problem solve. Come in with a clear and specific issue you want to address and ask your mentor to help come up with possible solutions.
Also, keep in mind that you can get great problem-solving help from one-off mentors, which Jenny discusses in her post The Best Way to Thank a Mentor.
Where Can I Find a Mentor?
Look local. Often your best mentor is right in your existing network, or directly adjacent to it.
He or she may even be a relationship you’ve already built – a teacher, former boss, colleague – but that you just need to re-invigorate and label “mentor” in your own mind.
How Should I Approach a Mentor?
Don’t ever ASK for a “mentor.” Just start building a relationship!
Sheryl Sandberg writes that being asked to be someone’s mentor is her big pet peeve:
“If someone has to ask the question ‘Are you my mentor?’ the answer is probably no.”
There are 3 ways to approach a mentor, depending on your situation:
- If you’re looking for an internship, ask up front whether the position will set up a mentorship for you. If not, you might look elsewhere for a better internship, or else actively negotiate the inclusion of a mentor.
- If you’re looking for a mentor in your workplace, make an effort to stop by and chat with the individual once in a while (in an unobtrusive way!) and perhaps to invite him or her to coffee or lunch – when you have a specific problem in mind that you need advice about.
- If you’re looking to change careers and want to find a mentor in another industry, informational interviewing is a good first step.
How Can I Retain a Mentor?
Once you have a mentor, how can you keep him or her active in your life? Three pieces of advice:
1. Be your best! In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg cites research showing that mentors select mentees based on “performance and potential.” This leads her to the following advice:
“Excel and you will get a mentor”
2. Be open to feedback! If you won’t listen, a mentor will not keep working with you.
3. Don’t complain! You don’t want your mentor to feel like seeing you is a drag. It’s one thing to ask for advice, it’s another to rehash every awful piece of workplace politics. Stay positive and you’ll have a mentor who isn’t just putting up with you, but who looks forward to assisting you for the long haul.
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below: Do you have a mentor? If so, how did you find him or her? If not, how do you think having one might help you?
Photo Credit: ffaalumni
Rebecca Fraser-Thill is the founder of Working Self, a site that helps twentysomethings create meaningful work – that actually pays the bills!She teaches psychology at Bates College and is one half of the Life After College coaching team. Follow her @WorkingSelf.