If you are the first in your family to go to college or to work in a large organization, and you didn’t have many professional role models growing up, you may not be fully aware of the value of finding a mentor. Yet, the sooner you realize it, the better for your career prospects.
The practice of mentorship systems goes back to ancient Greece and to the beginning of most religions. But the modern use of “mentor” and “career mentorship” in the U.S. started in the mid 70s. That’s when advocates for workplace equity tried to identify and address obstacles for the career growth of non-dominant groups.
Marisol Gonzalez, Producer at HBO, shares the impact of mentors in her career: “I have been lucky enough to have great mentors. People who believed in me even when I didn’t believe I could do something. Mentors have impacted me greatly. They have guided me to be the best I can. They have pushed me to always work towards excellence. The biggest impact that my mentors have made in my life is that I know I am not alone on this journey. They have my back, and they are there for me.”
Is there a process for finding a mentor?
Well, if you’re not surrounded by professionals in your field, finding a mentor is a task you must undertake deliberately. You should join professional organizations and attend conferences where you can easily meet the right people. Start developing the relationships as you would with anyone else, and eventually establish either a formal or informal mentoring relationship. Most people’s first mentors tend to be their bosses. The advantage here is that your boss knows your job, the culture of your organization, and your field. The disadvantage is that if conflict ever arise with your boss, then you have nobody to consult with.
So you may start with your boss and then set out finding a mentor outside of your organization. Keep in mind that you can have more than one mentor and you can also change mentors as your career evolves and your interests change.
Informal mentoring relationships
Also, when finding a mentor, it’s good to admit that many mentoring relationships are pretty informal. If you have a relationship with someone you really trust, admire and like, you may be able to “use” them as your mentors without formally asking. These can be very fulfilling and productive relationships. Lily Benjamin, SVP Leadership development and organization transformation at a large financial institution in the banking industry, shares:
“I have never had a formal mentor, but have had many informal mentoring relationships. Everyone has valuable attributes that we can learn from, whether we admire or disapprove of them. Given that we, humans, are evolving creatures, to become our better selves, it is imperative that we are conscious and open to continuous learning. Being humble and receptive is necessary to make the best out of our relationships with either formal or informal mentors. That is why I believe the Chinese proverb that says, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ Because I am a perpetual learner, I learned from my mentor-figures how to think critically, network, and be respected. As a result, I am very comfortable with ambiguity, navigating through complex matrix environments, and building meaningful relationships in support of everyone.”
Difference between formal and informal mentoring
Some research shows that finding a mentor and establishing a formal relationship results in more promotions than informal relationships. So besides having a supportive group of informal mentors, you should find someone who understands what it takes to make it in your field. Someone with whom you can establish a more formal mentoring relationship. That means, someone you meet regularly, who sees your potential, challenges you to achieve what you sometimes feel impossible, and helps you set your goals.
What you should know before you go off finding a mentor
Before you go off finding a mentor you should know that research shows that diverse employees (and women) tend to have less access to mentors in their organizations. And often, when they are assigned mentors, they tend to be of lower hierarchical level. Inevitably, this affects the access that the mentor has and the probability he or she will become a sponsor for the mentee. So, if you find yourself in this situation, it may be time to talk to your boss or to the HR team so you may be paired with an executive who can mentor you.
It’s also worth understanding why someone would invest time in your development. To this effect, the answers from these two executives resonate with most mentors I know.
Lucía Ballas-Traynor, a senior marketing and media executive, said:
“My main trigger on mentoring others is the fact that I did not have mentors who truly understood the unique challenges faced by a Latina early on in my career. I had no one to turn to when I needed advice, words of encouragement or just a likeminded sounding board who could share lessons learned from their real-world experience, when I needed it most! I find that companies and leadership (especially male-dominated) are not taking the time to coach and develop the next generation of professionals. Consequently the need for mentorship has increased.”
William Robalino, VP, Controller at Prudential Annuities, shares: “There are many reasons I enjoy mentoring. My biggest is the satisfaction I get in seeing someone’s goals and interests become a reality.”
Don’t miss my article on coaching and mentoring where I review different types of mentoring relationships.
The more you know the value you can bring to you mentor, the more productive the relationship. And the more interested your mentor will be in investing time in you. That’s why my biggest recommendation is: Think of the mentoring relationship as a two-way street. Bring as much value to your mentors as they bring you. Explore your mentor’s agenda, their goals, their aspirations and find ways to support them.
Role models inspire you by showing you what is possible with their own example. Mentors help you manifest your dreams and goals. They can help make the impossible possible. So surround yourself with the greatest mentors to achieve your greatest potential.
And if you are serious about finding mentors and coaches to propel your career forward, consider joining our Step Up program.