The past year of work has been hard. Maybe you are out of work, or stuck in a stressful job. Maybe the pandemic has made you realize that you want to do something completely different with your life. You’re so not alone.
Not being able to see or meet new people has made it harder than ever to make connections that will help your career. You’re left wondering, how do I negotiate a raise? What skills do I need to get a promotion? How do I make my resume stand out so I actually get an interview?
A mentor can help with these questions and seriously, so much more. If you’ve never considered a mentor, the time is now. While networking (and dating) is nearly impossible to do during a pandemic, a mentor can open doors you didn’t even know were there. A study in 2006 found that employees with mentors were five times more likely to be promoted than those without one.
“This is a proven science that having a community versus going it alone is better,” says Cathryne Milburn, the director of mentorship for the Ottawa regional chapter of Women in Communications and Technology.
Learn more about how getting a mentor this year can push your career to the next level, and what to expect from them.
What is a mentor and what do they do?
“Mentorship is about having a safe space to go back to and bounce ideas off,” says Milburn. “But also having people who are going to be a reality check for you or help you navigate some tough decisions.”
Expect them to share their experience, connections and network with you. You’ll likely meet with you a few times a year (in person or online) and help give advice, share opportunities and offer their thoughts and professional support.
Remember, they are not your therapist, but you can trust them to have your best interest at heart. But be ready for some truth bombs.
You can expect a safe space where you collaborate and you can learn from one another and build a community. And that’s what it’s about at the core of it.
“It’s about showing up within like an open mind, but also being prepared that you might be challenged on certain things,” says Milburn. “And that’s okay too.”
You may not always agree with their advice, but take time to digest it and consider their recommendations. They’re on your team. Which feels good, especially when you are going through a career transition or are looking for work.
What won’t a mentor do? They won’t plan your career for you. They aren’t career councillors, so you should be prepared to ask questions and talk about your shared industry when you meet. While they may share opportunities with you, don’t expect them to hire you. They may offer advice for interviewing, or even review your resume but a mentorship doesn’t guarantee a job.
Related: The best careers for introverts in 2021.
How does a mentorship work?
If you’re cringing at the thought of an awkward conversation with a VP about your five year plan, forget it. Modern mentorship is a lot less intense.
There are two main types: formal and informal.
Formal ones are what you’re most familiar with. It’s usually set up by a professional organization. You apply and are matched with someone with a similar background and experience. You might meet once a month or a few times a year to chat about your life and career. Some mentorships aren’t one-on-one but set up as groups so you can learn from each other.
“One-on-one mentoring can be really intimidating,” says Milburn. “Our mentorship circles really are about breaking down that stress and putting you in a group of peers that allow you to collaborate with one another.”
Informal mentorships are something you may have already experienced and didn’t even realize. It might be coaching or honest feedback from your supervisor, pep talks from your colleague while out for lunch, or advice from a family member. Mentoring in the workplace doesn’t have to be structured. It can be as simple as getting coffee with a team member sharing how you negotiated a raise.
So, how do I get a mentor?
One of the biggest myths is that you only need a mentor when you are starting your career. While it can be helpful to have someone show you the ropes and help learn the ins and outs of office culture, mentoring isn’t just for interns.
“It’s just about building a community and expanding your network,” says Milburn. “You can expect a safe space where you collaborate and you can learn from one another and build a community. And that’s what it’s about at the core of it.”
This is why mentoring can be useful at any point in your career. Having that supportive community is an easy way to develop new skills, learn about industry trends and connect you with job opportunities. The goal of mentorship is to develop lasting professional relationships so you can draw from them when you need it, and help lift others up.
A benefit of being a mentor can be the good feelings that come with watching someone else thrive and grow in their career. It also gives you a chance to expand your professional community to those coming up in your industry.
This is how you get a mentor
Not sure where to start? There are three main ways to find a mentor.
- Find an association or professional group
Many professional organizations offer mentorship programs a few times a year. Depending on your industry, there might even be specific groups that aim to support and encourage career growth for womxn. Keep in mind that that doesn’t always mean you’ll be paired up with a womxn mentor. Many groups have male allies who participate in mentorship programs.
If you are interested, Women in Communications and Technology (Ottawa region) is currently taking applications for their mentorship program.
Related: The best careers for women in tech.
- Tap your current workplace
Is there someone at work that you really admire? Ask them if you can buy them a coffee (with appropriate social distancing precautions, of course!) Tell them that you are trying to figure out the next steps in your career and you’d like to learn more about their experience. Most people will be happy to share what’s worked for them and give tips.
- Be bold and go beyond your network
Don’t have a colleague who fits the bill? Think about professors, past bosses and even old schoolmates who might be rising up the ranks at that company you really want to work for.
Also, there’s no shame in cold messaging people on Linkedin. Be brave and message the person with your dream job. Just be sure to keep it short and be sincere. Worst-case scenario: they don’t respond.
What happens if it doesn’t work out?
Like any relationship, mentorships can fizzle out, or you just don’t click. That’s fine. What’s important is that you stay professional and be honest with them. Your mentor should understand why you don’t want to continue the relationship and wish you well. They don’t want to waste their time either!
Mentorship should be a professional relationship. If anything raises red flags and doesn’t feel professional (like they ask you out on a date), know that you can end it at any time. If you do experience this, and your mentorship was set up by an organization, it’s important to report it to them.
Mentoring Do’s and Don’ts
- Listen to their advice. Even if it is harsh. Give yourself time to digest it and really think about whether it applies to your life. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what advice to act on, but it is important to be open to hearing it.
- Take them up on opportunities to meet other colleagues or connections. You never know who might have an opportunity for you, or what skills you might learn from them.
- Share your experience by mentoring. Imposter syndrome is real, and even if you are only a few years into your career, you’ve likely had experiences that will help others. Don’t feel like you have to wait till you’ve ‘made it’ before you give back.
- Waste people’s time. Be prepared to meet your mentor (in person or virtually) and know what you want to talk about. Don’t flake or cancel multiple times.
- Ask them to hire you. They may be able to review your resume and introduce you to their circle. “It’s all about building connections in that community and that’s how you’re going to find a job,” says Milburn.
- Burn bridges with your mentor. Your career is long, and you honestly never know who might work with 10 or even 20 years from now. Take the higher ground, even if you feel let down.
You may also like: 20 best companies to work for in Canada in 2021.