Navigating the world of mentorship can be a mystery. No one denies the value of mentorship but many young women don’t know how to find one. According to LinkedIn, 49% of women 18-29 do not have mentors and just over 50% of all women without a mentor say it’s “because they’ve never found someone appropriate to ask.”
Most 40-something women agree mentorship was critical to their own success. Their advice? Don’t wait for the perfect mentor…just ask and start learning as you go. Here are some tips on how:
Who Is the Appropriate Person to Ask?
- A mentor should be someone you can go to for advice, friendship, encouragement and guidance in navigating your career.
- They may come from inside or outside your company but they should be objective and have your best interests in mind.
- If internal, it should be someone you don’t directly report to who you can talk to without fear of consequences.
- They should be able to shed light on specific work issues as well as help de-code how to work the system (e.g. office politics).
- You don’t have to limit your search to people in your exact same industry. An older, more experienced manager/leader can apply their perspective to a variety of workplace issues.
The Art of the Ask
The key to forging a mentor relationship is to be open to opportunities. When you feel a natural connection with someone, just ask for help. Tell them how much you admire what they have accomplished, their work style, or (fill in the blank) and would love to meet for coffee and learn more about their career path. That is what this woman who inherited a job leading project management for a large NY architecture firm at age 22 did:
“I would go sit in their office and say, ‘Tell me about your experience. How did you start out in the business? What did you learn that got you here?’ They loved it. I probably did that twice a month and I learned a tremendous amount. Everybody likes to tell you about their experiences for the most part.”
She went on to use those learnings to start her own firm at age 25. She believes you have nothing to lose by asking. If they say no it’s likely because they are simply too busy and they may be able to suggest someone else.
Keeping a Mentor
Once the connection is established ask if they would be willing to get together on a regular basis. From there you need to ensure the relationship is mutually rewarding. Some things to keep in mind so you don’t become an advice stalker!
Respect their time. Always ask how often they can get together, how much time they have and what time is good for them. Don’t start bombarding them with emails. Do ask if it’s okay to email them every now and then with a question but put some parameters around it (e.g. I won’t send you more than one in a week). They may say don’t worry about it but they will appreciate you asking.
Consider reciprocity. Don’t just “pick” their brain. Think about what you can offer them that will add to their brain power! Some women get a reward from a creative exchange. Do some research ahead of time to add to the conversation rather than just ask away.
Others will appreciate reverse mentorship. What can you teach them about social media, the latest in pop culture or how to motivate 20-somethings in the workplace. Recommend articles that may be of interest to them that they may not be in their line of site.
Over time it will become a natural and two-way engagement but you need to nurture it.
Christina Vuleta is a strategic consultant and creator of 40:20 Vision. 40:20 Vision is a resource to start conversations, share experiences and facilitate mentoring between generations. It provides advice from 40-something women to 20-something women on what we have learned in life about career, passions, self-fulfillment and relationships. Most recently a director at The Futures Company, a strategic marketing and trend consultancy, Christina has made a career out of understanding insights that drive women’s aspirations and life decisions.