You might have three degrees, six months aboard and a year of interning under your belt. But don’t undervalue the power of having a mentor at work.
As traditional protocols and roadmaps to professional success are being redefined and rewritten, the practice of having a mentor has become more popular and remains one of the best ways to navigate this new terrain.
But you might be thinking, “WTF is a mentor and why do I need one?”
Simply put—a mentor is someone who can provide you with career-based guidance and advice. It’s a person who is more senior and further down the path than you are. A mentor—especially at work—can be your guiding light as you begin to carve out your own space in the world.
Sure, you might be coming out of school with three degrees, six months aboard and a year of interning at one of the top agencies under your belt. But don’t undervalue the power of having a mentor at work in your corner.
Because even when you get your foot in the door, it can still be difficult to make a name for yourself, climb that corporate ladder and shatter the glass ceiling without the outstretched arms for a more senior leader to help you up.
Essentially, your mentor is someone who can be cheering your wins and pushing you through your challenges.
Here’s Why You Need a Mentor at Work
Help you identify your skill set. This is about figuring out where to best direct your energy.
Help you develop new skills. Building on and expanding your repertoire and what you have to offer.
Help you to create a vision for your long term goals. Mapping out uncharted territory and how to conquer the world.
Share advice on getting promoted or asking for a raise. How many of us have accepted the first salary offer, have no clue how to negotiate a raise and even worse—have no clue how to value that work that we’re contributing to a company? A mentor can help you quantify your productivity so you can secure the bag at work.
Provide you with workplace contacts and opportunities. This will make the workplace feel manageable and scalable for you.
Discuss difficult decisions. This is peak guidance, support and consultation; guiding you through inevitable impasses, curves and bumps that come with navigating a career path.
Provide you with a springboard to networking opportunities. Assistance with making connections and building contacts at the company.
Get you on the guest list or invited to industry socials. Being higher up on the ladder has its social perks! This means being introduced to other folks in your industry and creating a professional community of contacts and friends outside of the office.
Your mentor should be somebody that you can run ideas and dreams by, somebody who can play translator for you when you negotiate your first professional contract and somebody who can be truthful and straight up honest with you–letting you know if that contract is fair.
When a good mentor does these things, the professional world seem less intimidating and daunting for you.
When you’re first starting out in the world of professionals, suits and careers it can be tempting to grab the first person available and convince them to be your mentor. This is a trap and should be avoided. Before asking someone to be your mentor consider if they are the right fit.
Are they working in or well-versed in your chosen field? Do they have something to offer you? Do they want to to mentor you? Don’t be afraid to “shop around” and trust that finding a suitable mentor may take time and patience.
Asking someone to mentor you might trigger feelings of high-school-dance awkwardness, personal embarrassment or fear of rejection. This is because you’re making yourself vulnerable and admitting that you want (or need) help and guidance.
Set aside these feelings by scheduling an initial conversation. In this first meeting you want to find a balance between directness and boldness but with an open-ended and conversational vibe.
Send a LinkedIn message or email to invite your perspective mentor out for coffee. Schedule a half-hour to an hour window—this will give you time and prevent rushing the conversation.
If you don’t feel ready or are unable to meet in person, request a Skype session or a Google Hangout chat. But be mindful of their time. Come to the table prepared and don’t waste the opportunity.
Finally, there is the option of approaching your perspective mentor via email. If you choose this route avoid spilling out your whole request in the first message. Instead, start out light by offering some value to them. Perhaps you read an article that might be of interest to them or maybe you can congratulate them on a win of their own.
Once you have established a back-and-forth dialogue, then lay out what you’re asking for and why.
Set Realistic Expectations
This is another trap: asking for too much too soon or expecting your mentor to be a “granter of wishes” who can manifest all of your career goals is not realistic. Check your expectations: your mentor can only guide you and open doors towards your success.
It is still up to you to do the real work and persevere through the long term grind. Setting dreams as expectations or beginning a mentorship by making unreasonable demands is an easy way to sabotage or wind up frustrated and disappointed.
And, Finally, Let Yourself Be Helped
In your initial meeting, avoid hogging the floor and give your chosen mentor space to grill you questions, set boundaries and call you out on your weaknesses or failures.
Prepare for this and know how to discuss your career aspirations and answer legitimate questions about them. Remember that people can tell when you’re BS’ing verses when you’re being authentic and genuine.
Realize that in order for your mentor to help you, humility is required on your part. If you’re coming from a good place and you’re willing to learn and grow get over your ego and accept that you’re going to make mistakes.
Practice acknowledging the advice and direction of your mentor without defensiveness or spiraling into self-hatred and defeat. Your chosen mentor may grill your vision, interrogate your aptitude and abilities or simply say “no” and walk away. This is part of the process.
Trust that a good mentor is critiquing you because they genuinely want to help you and see you improve, remember: hustle, put in the work and praise and reward will come!
THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY SADIE STEPHENS AND ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON SEE GIRL WORK.