Why You Need a Mentor This Year (And How to Find One)
There’s a new gender gap in town, and this time, women are leading the way.
The Great Resignation and Great Re-Evaluation are causing women to rethink their careers in bigger ways.
According to Gusto, a payroll software provider, the quit rate hit its widest gender gap in August 2021, with women quitting at a rate 1.1 percentage points higher than men.
And, in a recent Qualtrics survey, 63% of women said they intended to stay at their company, which was down from 71% in 2021.
While some women are quitting their jobs for better opportunities, more flexibility, and higher pay, other women are quitting from burnout, childcare needs, or other wellbeing priorities.
One in three women have considered downshifting their career or leaving the workforce entirely this year, according to the Women in the Workplace Report.
Whether you're reaching the next level in your career, turning your side hustle into a full-time gig, or preparing to break into a new industry, making a career change can be challenging without support.
Here’s why you need a mentor this year (and how to find one).
If you’re ready for the next level in your career, a mentor can help you get there. Research shows that those who have a mentor are more likely to be promoted and have higher salaries.
A huge benefit of having a mentor is having the opportunity to learn from their career experiences, mistakes, setbacks, and lessons learned. Mentors can also share their experiences in being promoted, asking for raises, or taking on new responsibilities at work.
When you learn from someone else, you gain the benefit of their experience. They can share what worked for them, what to watch out for, and how to navigate difficult conversations.
Many mentors are also willing to connect you to other resources or people who will help in your career growth. For example, if you’re a newly-promoted people manager, your mentor can give you feedback on how to handle certain employee situations, or they may direct you to a trusted HR colleague or management course to help you grow.
Your mentor may also act as a sponsor within your organization, connecting you with leaders across the company and advocating for your promotion and advancement. That’s not always the case with mentors, especially those outside your own organization, but it’s a benefit to both you as the mentee, and the organization, if your mentor also acts as a sponsor.
When you’re promoted into a new role, it’s common to feel impostor syndrome, a phenomenon that you’ll be found out as a fraud, or a feeling that you don’t really deserve your new role as a leader.
A mentor can serve as a trusted guide and advisor, who is there to listen to your experience and provide you with sound advice and warm encouragement. As your relationship grows with your mentor, and they get to know you better, they are often able to see your strengths and potential and help you build confidence in yourself.
When you’re ready to make a career change – whether that involves going back to school or pivoting to a new career field altogether – a mentor can make all the difference.
It can feel lonely when you know you’re ready to do something else, and a mentor can be a great sounding board for your ideas and challenges.
A mentor is also helpful if you’re not sure what you want to be when you grow up. If you’re debating between multiple career paths or trying to figure out what your next right step is, a mentor can help you leverage your transferrable skills to find the career that’s right for you.
You’ll also need to make new connections, if you haven’t already, in the new career you want to pursue. In that case, it can be helpful to find a mentor who is already in that career, so you can ask them about their experience, gain insights into breaking into the field, or meet other connections to make your transition less lonely.
Starting a business.
Like making a career change, starting a business can be a lonely road. It’s likely that you don’t have many people in your current network who have their own business, and especially when you’re first starting out, it can feel overwhelming to know what to do first (or next) to put yourself out there.
Having a mentor who already owns their own business is a critical first step if you’re thinking about starting your own business. You don’t know what you don’t know, and impostor syndrome is likely to creep up.
You’ve heard the statistics, that most businesses fail within the first five years, and I’ll bet that much of that is because business owners try to do things on their own, throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick.
If you don’t want to waste time, energy, or money on the wrong things in your business, you need a mentor! A business mentor can help you decide the next right things to do to get started in your business, find clients, or determine a marketing strategy to grow your business.
And, there’s a lot of emotional management that comes with being a business owner. When you’re the only one working in your business, everything comes down to you. It’s easy to feel like your business is an extension of yourself, so you take things personally.
A mentor can also help you work through the critical mindset shifts you need to make as a business owner, so you can stop second-guessing yourself and feel confident in your ability to run your business.
If you’re ready to start a business and want support and mentorship from day one, check out my group coaching program, Spark Society, to learn how I can help you!
Next? How to find a mentor.
1) Make a wish list.
When you’re ready to seek out mentorship, it helps to make a list of the attributes, experiences, and skills you’re looking for in your mentor.
First, consider whether you would prefer to work with someone whose strengths and personality match yours, or whether you would get more out of a relationship with someone who has opposite strengths and personality.
For example, one of my clients self-described as someone who is very analytical, who sees patterns and uses data to back up decisions. Most of her strengths were in the Strategic Thinking and Executing categories. For her mentoring wish list, she wanted someone with strengths that would complement hers, like Relationship-Building and Influencing strengths, which would give her a different perspective.
Next, describe the skills and attributes you’re looking for in a mentor. Here are a few things to consider when making your wish list:
- Tenure (i.e., how long they’ve worked in their career).
- Industry or Field (e.g., technology, healthcare, product management, supply chain).
- Internal vs. External (in your company or outside).
- Position or Role (e.g., Vice President level, C-Suite level, people manager, etc.).
- Specialized Experience (e.g., Agile, coaching, training, project management, etc.).
- Certifications or Degrees (especially if you want to attain a certain certification).
- Availability (i.e., do they already mentor several people or are they open to mentorship?).
- Location (i.e., do you want to meet in person or virtually?).
Finally, create an avatar of this person, or a summary describing all of the strengths, characteristics, and experiences you’re looking for. This will be helpful when you begin reaching out to your personal network in step three, and it gives you a clear picture so you know when you meet the right person.
2) Set goals for the relationship.
Next, it’s important to determine what you’re looking to get out of a mentoring relationship. Of course, I listed some of the benefits in the above section, but it’s likely that your goals will be unique to you and your career path.
The goal of most mentoring relationships is to help you overcome a transition or hurdle in your career, or to become better in an area of work that you need more support or guidance in.
Here are a few career milestones where a mentoring relationship would support you:
- When you're promoted into a new role that feels like a stretch, or a role that requires a different skillset (e.g., managing people if you were previously an individual contributor).
- When you receive feedback, either during a performance review or regular check-in with your manager, that you have room to improve one of your skills or competencies.
- When you arrive at a point in your career where you feel you’re at a crossroads with your current job or organization and need more clarity on what’s next.
- When you’re ready to take the leap into business ownership and need advice on getting started or making a career pivot.
Regardless of your career situation, a mentor’s perspective can help you get clear on what’s most important and provide you with a new point of view.
Once you’ve determined your goals for the mentoring relationship, share these with your mentor. Remember: Mentoring is a two-way relationship. Your mentor wants to know how to best support you, so it’s important to share your goals in your initial conversation.
3) Reach out.
Now that you have your wish list and mentoring goals, it’s time to reach out to your network!
You could begin by reaching out to connections you already know and are interested in forming a relationship with. This could be senior leaders in your current organization, or connections from your sorority or networking group, or family friends you’re acquainted with.
You could send them an email or personal note describing your career situation and what you’re looking for in a mentor. Then, ask if they would be willing to schedule a coffee chat to explore the possibility of a mentoring relationship.
If you don’t have someone in your current network who meets your wish list criteria for a great mentor, tap into your network to see if they know someone who does. In this case, you can ask your friend or colleague for a warm introduction, then schedule a coffee chat from there.
I know this can bring up a lot of fear and hesitation, because you don’t want to bother a senior leader who is likely busy in their day-to-day job. In my experience, when you approach someone to learn more about their career or ask for guidance, they’re more than happy to pay it forward, and in many cases, they’re honored to be asked!
You could also consider peer-to-peer mentoring as a way to dip your toes into the mentorship pool. For example, when I joined a Mastermind group last year, it was great to get support from the coaches in the program. And being able to share experiences with someone on my level who is going through the same things in her business was invaluable.
I scheduled coffee chats with the other women in the group to learn from them, share experience, and provide my feedback and advice in exchange. The reciprocal nature of this relationship meant that there was no hierarchy; we were there to support each other and provide insights based on our strengths and experiences.
The bottom line is: A mentoring relationship always works best if you’re in the driver’s seat. When you know what you want, the guidance that will best serve you, and the experience you’re looking to gain, it’s easier to communicate those with a traditional or peer mentor.
Finding a successful mentoring relationship can take time, but the benefits can have a lifetime impact. Mentors can help you navigate career transitions, advancement to a new level of leadership, or even starting your own business. Follow the steps outlined here to find a mentor that will help take your career or business to the next level.
Take action now: Start by making a wish list of the strengths, qualities, and experiences you’re looking for in a mentor. Next, set goals for the mentoring relationship by deciding what you want to get out of it. Finally, start reaching out to build connections to potential mentors.
How have you benefitted by having a mentor in your life? Let me know in the comments!
This article originally appeared on the Bright Space Blog at brightspacecoaching.com.
Jessica Dowches-Wheeler just made the leap into full-time business ownership after a career in healthcare management and management consulting. Her mission is to see more women in leadership roles.
Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.
Bright Space Coaching
I just made the leap into full-time business ownership, after a career in healthcare management and management consulting. I'm excited for this next chapter in my life and ready to grow my network (I've been such a hermit during the pandemic)! I'm working on developing a coach certification program and providing group coaching solutions to organizations to help close the gender gap. My mission is to see more women in leadership roles! Continue Reading