Even top-level executives have mentors. You can be at the very tip-top of your ladder, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have another guy on another ladder next to you to hold on to from time to time. Hell, even Jack Donaghy recognizes the importance of a mentor. If, 30 rock isn’t enough of a reason for you, though, consider what Penelope Trunk found on her site:
"Executives who have had mentors have earned more money at a younger age," writes Gerard Roche, senior chairman at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Additionally, his research shows "those who have had mentors are happier with their career progress and derive greater pleasure from their work." The majority of executives had mentors in their first five years of their career.
What makes a good mentor?
A good mentor is usually somebody in the same area of work as you are, but with significantly more experience. But, more importantly, a good mentor is just a good person. Somebody with candor that’s easy to talk to and both receptive and nurturing. It helps if they have a vested interest in getting you more success or grooming you for a better position.
For this reason, your boss may not be a good mentor. If you’re in a particularly fast-growing company, and there are higher positions regularly opening, then it will be to their advantage to groom you and hire from within. But, if you are in a rather static company, many managers are reticent to make their employees promotable because of an erroneous fear that they’ll get forced out.
So, a good idea is to find somebody who is not only above you in your company, but also one step to the side. If you’re in advertising, take a look at the sales department, for example. As long as your mentor has been at the company you’re in long enough, they’ll know more about how things work, what your options are, and what your next steps should be than you do.
Think about your options
Literally make a list – write it down with an actual pen and paper – of all the people within your company that you think would be beneficial to align yourself. Also, make a list of your peers or superiors that you admire in other companies. Anybody who you think has it figured out, who is professionally self actualized, and put them all on the list. Also, it’s important to not forget about mentors of the opposite sex.
Now, don’t pare this list down. Contact everybody on it. Write them a note saying you’d like to get together for a lunch or some drinks and just pick their brain a little bit. You don’t have to sneak around the fact that you’re looking for a mentor, but don’t use the word ‘mentor’ right away. At this stage, the recipient is statistically unlikely to work out. Meet with them all and see who gels with you. You want to lean more on the personal side of gelling. Your mentor should be interested in you as a person first. And that will foster their nurturing of your professional life.
Be an overachiever
While contacting a lot of people and “networking” with them over drinks is requisite, you also need to inspire your mentor to mentor you. If you’re just in it for the cash, and you’re just looking for the next rung on the later and nowhere else, you’re not going to inspire anybody to want to get you where you want to be.
As part of your meetings, or in your day-to-day, ask some of your mentors for more work. Actively seek out to be added to projects you know little about. Ask if there’s anything they need from you because you were able to “finish early” even if you weren’t. Just stay late. The squeaky wheel gets the grease in this case, and if you send two more emails work 30 extra minutes on this initiative a day, you’ll be covered in grease within two weeks.
Grow your mentor/mentee relationship
As you narrow down your picks and start to resonate with one of your potential mentors, consider formalizing the relationship. There’s no need to write anything down, and you still don’t even have to call it a mentorship. What we mean is consider formally meeting on a regular basis. Call it your monthly breakfast or happy hour (false dichotomy if you brunch hard).
This will ensure that your relationship continues rather than being just a few helpful business lunches. You may also want to invite your mentor to some non-business affairs so you don’t seem so much like a rung-climber. Protip: karaoke is the universal language of friendship.
If you don’t have the time or are unsure about your social skills and, hence, your ability to woo a mentor, there are several organizations you can go to that specialize in pairing mentors and mentees. Think about contacting the SBA, Peer Resources or Score.org. You give them your relevant information and statistics, and they’ll help find a mentor with whom you may gel.