How to Find the Right Mentee to Advance Both of Your Careers
Professional mentors can exist in many forms: They can be people you bounce ideas off of, swap interview or salary negotiation tips with, or who advocate for another person within their organization or field. Hopefully, you’ve have had a mentor figure to shepherd you in your career. Or, maybe you didn’t, and you want to be that source for someone else. It’s your turn to share your wealth of knowledge with a mentee, either in your field or outside of it. Building your network to seek out a relationship that clicks — and endures — can be a challenge. Here, career experts suggest the savviest ways to pay it forward in your professional life.
1. See if the match is the right fit. As long as you have some notes about your professional experience to pass along and aren’t bogged down with a personal change like a move or new job, don’t hesitate to start mentoring someone, says Jenny Galluzzo, co-founder of The Second Shift, a marketplace that connects professional women with flexible work. Spend some time with potential mentees to get to know their objectives. “Take candidates out for lunch to learn about them, to see if you click, and to see how they act afterward: Does the person send a thank you and follow up?” Galluzzo says. “Remember that it’s a two-way street, so you both have to want the relationship to progress,” she adds.
2. Search outside of your comfort zone. “It’s natural to seek someone who reminds us of our younger selves, often referred to as ‘mirrortocracy,’ but I would encourage those of us with access, power, and influence to seek mentees for whom those mirrors are harder to find,” says Eileen Scully, founder of The Rising Tides, a global consulting and advisory firm that works to advance the experience of women in the workplace. If you and your mentee have less overlap professionally, you may have advice to offer them that’s refreshing, or an interesting example of a career trajectory that differs from theirs. It may take some digging outside of your direct circle to find that right connection. “Maybe it’s someone with whom you share an interest outside of work, someone who shows strong potential but is slotted in the wrong job, or someone who is working for the wrong direct supervisor,” Scully suggests.
3. Join a co-working space or professional group. One of the easiest ways to connect directly with mentees is a professional network or co-working space, especially those geared toward empowering women. Think The Riveter, The Wing, The Assembly, and others. “Also, many companies have affinity groups that focus specifically on women connecting and helping each other — if yours doesn’t, talk to HR and start one,” Galluzzo says. In addition, she adds, hit up events in your industry that have a focus on diversity, networking, and mentorship to sync up with mentees who have a similar mindset and professional goals as you.
4. Network outside of work too. “While professional events and forums may be helpful for some, they may seem a bit forced for others,” says Mike Fitzgerald, a career coach and advisor at ClearRock, Inc., a Boston-based career transition, outplacement, leadership development, and executive coaching firm. “This could happen virtually anywhere: at a professional association event, a place of worship, a health and fitness facility, or with sons and daughters of good friends or acquaintances.” Start by just offering tips to the person on a case-by-case basis, and slowly build the relationship that way. “Let them know that you are open to continuing the conversation, and then see if they respond to your guidance by following up with additional questions or concerns,” Fitzgerald says.
5. Make meaningful connections online too. Don’t count out social networking apps like LinkedIn, BumbleBizz, or even Instagram when forming solid professional relationships. The social universe can help you bond over the personal and professional, and having an idea of someone’s background gives you insight in helping them advance their career. “I’ve helped a number of people I’ve met in Facebook groups — I once replied to a woman’s post searching for assistance in negotiating an offer, and she recently reached out again for advice on applying for a promotion,” says Deb Liu, vice president of Facebook Marketplace and co-founder of Women in Product, a nonprofit that supports women in the product management field.
6. Establish an environment of mutual trust. The key to a mentor-mentee relationship is a foundation of honesty and trust with one another. A mentor should be someone who will shoot straight with a mentee about their particular industry and their place in it, while supporting the mentee and building their professional confidence. “The benefits are countless: nuanced and customized advice intended for one particular person, a safe place to explore areas of fear, weakness, or vulnerability, and an opportunity to receive challenging critiques if needed, presented with care,” Fitzgerald says.
7. Highlight both of your strengths and help each other. “When you have a non-traditional career path, it requires taking different steps to connect with someone who can support you,” Liu says. If you and another person you admire are both freelance bloggers, see if you can swap notes across your specific areas of expertise and mentor each other in an out-of-the-box way. “I’m writing a children’s book, so I’ve consulted with a friend who offered to read it on a number of things related to the literary world. In exchange, I advise her on her career in tech,” Liu adds.
8. Remember that it’s not all about what you get in return. “The goal of networking should be to learn about people, so that you can find ways to help them,” Scully says. It’s more than just an exchange of email addresses, and should be focused on forming a genuine connection with your mentee, and not fixating on what you have to gain from the mentorship. “We’ve all been burned by someone scooping a job, a deal, or whatever, but don’t let that stop you,” Scully says. “Share generously your connections with each other.”
Give your mentee (and us) a shoutout @BritandCo and tell us how you found each other.
(Photo via Getty)