Reports show that offering or receiving professional mentorship is an excellent way to gain fresh insight into your career goals and strategies, unlock barriers to brisk advancement, and just plain-old accelerate your good karma.
According to a five-year study compiled by the Human Resources department at Sun Microsystems, employees who took part in a mentoring program were five times more likely to receive a promotion, while mentors were six times more likely to be offered a career boost. What’s more, employees increased their chances of scoring raises by being a mentee or mentor—on average by a factor of about 20 percent over employees not taking part in the program.
Sold on the benefits of a business buddy, but don’t know how to grow your network? You’re not alone. A report by Robert Walters Recruiting found that while “83% of professionals would like to be involved in a mentoring program, only 29% are in workplaces that offer them.”
Try the following steps to take a proactive, DIY-approach to finding (or acting as) a mentor in your industry. Then relax in the knowledge that whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end of mentorship, there’s something to gain for everyone. After all, as a Buddhist proverb reads, “If you light a lamp for someone, it will also brighten your own path.”
1. IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS AS A MENTEE OR MENTOR
If you’re serving as a mentor within your organization, you get to offer support and guidance to someone who’s ready to devote their time and resources to your organization. Awesome, right? One immediate goal then might be to help clarify the overall mission of your organization and support your mentee in how to experience professional growth while actively contributing to that larger objective.
Research by Deloitte indicates that only 36 percent of organizations have a consistent approach to setting goals, which leaves many new hires to play guesswork about the bigger picture. It’s no wonder then that only 16 percent of frontline staff typically know how overarching priorities and initiatives connect.
As a mentee, this relationship can help you better align with your new workplace, and find opportunities to show you truly “get it.” The mentoring relationship can also be a place to articulate professional goals that may have little to do with your current role. Commit to transparency around your motivations for working together, then set goals and work together to achieve your shared objectives.
2. ESTABLISH THE VALUE YOU PROVIDE
The beauty of a mentoring relationship is that it is, ideally, a two-way street. Once you’re clear on the goals you’d like to achieve, spend time articulating the value that you can provide as a mentee or mentor.
Your worth expresses itself in many ways. Mentors can provide everything from connections to industry networks, to advice about how to find work/life balance. For mentees, consider the value you bring as someone looking at the organization or industry with fresh eyes. In addition, mentees can offer direct support, task execution, or even “reverse mentoring,” which Forbes recently described as “an initiative where older executives are mentored by younger employees on topics like technology, social media, and current trends.”
3. BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED…
When looking for a mentor or mentee, one approach is first to consider your current organization. While you may already have a formal relationship with your direct report or supervisor, you can also look beyond your immediate department to identify other seasoned professionals in your organization who might be willing to offer broader career guidance. Some organizations offer structured mentoring programs through their HR departments, which can offer the support and structure that often leads to success.
4. …OR SOURCE ONLINE
If you’re not feeling a strong connection to any possible mentors/mentees at your current job, or if you’re unemployed or looking to switch industries, platforms like Twitter can be a great place to start an informal mentoring relationship.
A recent post on the blog Her Agenda advises readers to first spend time researching the influential players in their field when looking for mentoring relationships, and then “start small. This is about building a casual rapport. If they tweet something interesting, tell them so,” the piece reads. “If they tweet something that invites conversation, throw your voice in the ring. Connect gradually…asking for a leg-up in the industry is a turn-off, and ultimately unhelpful.”
If you need a little digital boost, try LinkedIn’s new mentoring app. The app will feature a format familiar to digital daters, is designed to match potential mentors and mentees.
5. LEARN FROM THE GREATS
Searching for a creative way to structure your ideal mentoring relationship? Consider leaders who inspire you within your industry, then research the connections they sought out along the way. A recent article on Huffington Post highlighted a few high-profile mentor/mentee relationships and underscored the importance of professional mentors.
Some fun facts:
- Soul Cycle CEO Melanie Whelan received powerful mentoring support from Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson when Whelan first started working there at age 24.
- R&B singer Usher recently revealed that he decided to mentor a once-unknown Canadian YouTuber named Justin Bieber because of his “natural charisma.”
- Oprah Winfrey, now a ubiquitous name throughout the world, looked up to journalist and co-host of The View Barbara Walters, who she considers a valuable mentor and “leader in the frontier” of television.
6. CULTIVATE THE CONNECTION
Once you have established a mentoring relationship, it’s important to spend time fostering that connection. Don’t bug your mentee or mentor with constant calls or texts, but also be careful not to make your relationship a transactional one in which you find yourself only asking for things—advice, references, or time to talk.
Instead, see Tip #2. Continue to use your mentoring relationship as an opportunity to identify and develop your individual skill set, and keep those skills on offer to your mentor. You can also find activities to participate in together, like reading and discussing an exciting article or book in your industry, creating and sharing a “vision statement” for your career, or even role-playing difficult business conversations or situations (hat tip to Halogen Software for this great mentoring infographic).
7. LET IT EVOLVE
Finally, remember that mentoring is an art, not a science. It’s very possible that you may already have found a professional relationship with the person who will ultimately be your mentee or mentor—you just don’t know it yet. Don’t get caught up on how to formally ask for mentorship, especially early in the relationship. Rather, focus on listening closely to the questions and/or guidance your potential mentee or mentor offers, and let the connection blossom naturally.