Written by Rebecca Fraser-Thill

Business man shows success abstract flow chart

What’s all this hype about having a mentor?

Today we’ll break it down, one question at a time.

Why Bother?

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

Fraser-Thill_squareAbout Rebecca

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.

Written by Melissa Anzman

reaching for star

Impatience is a virtue… said the overly ambitious employee with their eyes set on their next move. Ambition is a great characteristic to have, especially early on in your career. It will help you stay on track, push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and keep you far away from the dreaded work complacency bug.

But while you are busy being ambitious, you tend to miss important lessons and skillsets around you. Ambition changes your focus forward – to what’s next, blurring out what is.

I know the narrowing of focus first-hand. I spent the first seven (that’s generous) years of my career so overly ambitious that I missed critical opportunities that would have propelled my career forward even faster.

I ignored the small things, the lessons, the connections, and the work.

My ambition scared people. My bosses felt threatened; their bosses didn’t know what to do with me; my peers didn’t want to be on the same team as me because I was too intense; and so on.

Only as I look back can I see how the approach I took wasn’t the best one, it wasn’t the most efficient one to move up. Learn from my seven-year ambition cloud.

How to Stop Being Overly Ambitious and Still Move Up

Create a Clear Map of What You Need to Learn in Each Role

For every job you take or create, you need to go into it with a clear set of skills and knowledge that you want to learn from the position. You shouldn’t see a role only as a bump in salary, a higher title, or the next stop on the promotion chain.

Each job can teach you something – usually it’s a lot of somethings. But if you are only worried about what’s next, the same lessons will keep hitting you in the head.

Use the roles that you are given, the projects that are handed to you, the annoying coworkers or boss who just doesn’t “get it,” to create your learning plan. Be specific and think outside of your everyday role. “Hard skills” are great – learning a program, how to process something, etc., but also focus on the “softer skills” – interpersonal communications, how to change perceptions, creating your work persona, and so on.

These skills should absolutely be part of what you will need to be successful at the next level, but here’s the catch: until you have learned each and every one of them, the next level shouldn’t be a second thought. Your map will get you there when you focus on your needed skills while doing the job you are in.

Fully Understand Your Why

I talk about “the why” a lot when it comes to your career – in general and in specifics. Understanding “the why” for you, will help you stay ambitious, but also keep it in check. If you know why moving up, getting promoted, or focusing on ruling the world is so important to you, you will be able to constantly remind yourself and work towards something specific.

One of my own worries when I was overly ambitious was that if I took my eye off the prize, I wouldn’t make it to the next level. It took growing up (ugh – how old-sounding is that?) and realizing that I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow with a personality transplant. I will still be motivated, focused, driven, ambitious, and so on – even if my immediate focus was on the present.

I had no “why” at the time. My ambition was solely focused on moving up, earning more money, and proving the proverbial “someone” wrong. I’m still not sure who that someone is, but I digress.

Create your why. Not your parents why; not your friends why; not the why you think you should have. Be true in why your ambition is so important to you, and that truth will keep you moving in the right direction.

Ambition Isn’t the Same for Everyone

Drive and ambition shows up differently for people. You may be externally ambitious, in that everyone knows what you’re seeking, while your cube-mate may be thinking the same thing but never express that out loud.

Your ambition belongs to you. Don’t judge someone else for “not being as ambitious” as you or for being ok with the position they are in. Maybe they have mastered the above two points and are moving along with their career stealthily; or maybe they are ambitious in a different way.

The point is, like religion and politics, ambition is off-limits in the work environment (ok, maybe that’s my work utopia world, but you get my point). Focus on your own growth, development, learning, and path – not what others are or are not doing to help you get there.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
How has your ambition helped or hurt your career path? 

melissa anzman

About Melissa

Melissa Anzman is the creator of Launch Yourself.co where she helps high performers launch their career, business + brand to the next level, make an impact in the lives of others, and earn more income. She is the author of two books: How to Land a Job and Stop Hating Your Job, and the host of the Launch Yourself Podcast. Follow her @MellyMelAnz.

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