Have you ever had your mind blown by a little kid's wisdom?
More often than not, they tend to have surprisingly astute yet simple observations in life. (Case in point -- noting to my Dad, at age two, that my Mom "keeps the money in her purse" when I was told he couldn't buy a toy I wanted.)
While it might be a stretch to call kids our mentors, the occasional profoundness of children reminds us that youth doesn't always preclude wisdom. And the same goes for mentorship. It doesn't have to be limited to kids, teens, and people early in their careers. As we progress in life, that guidance shouldn't disappear -- there isn't an age that deems us unfit to be mentored.
But when it comes to being mentored later in our careers, many of us aren’t sure where to begin. There are many ways to go about finding a mentor at any age, though, and we’re here to suggest a few. (And to learn more about finding a marketing mentor, check out these tips from HubSpot Academy.)
How to Find a Mentor at Any Stage of Your Career
1) Ditch your preconceived notions of experience.
We tend to believe that mentors are supposed to be older, wiser, and more experienced. Today, that logic is a bit flawed -- we live in a time when being professionally experienced means many things.
Some younger generations are more experienced in jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago. And then there are those who are more advanced and know the broad spectrum of certain career paths. There's an upside to learning and teaching both. As it turns out, we all need guidance.
New York Times assignment editor Phyllis Korkki recently covered this phenomenon, describing how, in her mid-50s, her 27-year-old Social Strategy Editor made her better at her job. In an act of reverse mentorship, the younger colleague taught Korkki how to use Snap chat, which she says, “stretched me as a journalist and a person.”
I, too, was hesitant to jump of the Snapchat train at first. But when I started this job and befriended one of my slightly younger colleagues -- one of whom brilliantly explains Snapchat here -- I decided that it might be a good idea to figure it out. And lucky for me, she was more than happy to help.
That wasn't all my colleague taught me, though. I've actually learned a lot from her in just a few short months -- including how to toss any age- or experience-related connotations around mentorship away.
2) Know that mentorship goes both ways.
When I asked my colleague, Staff Writer Aja Frost, about her thoughts on being a mentee at any point in life, she provided some interesting insights.
“I think everyone should simultaneously seek mentorship and give it,” she told me. “Being both makes you better at both. If you know the type of mentorship you like to accept, you can also dole out that type.”
Korkki touches on this concept, noting that the only thing that could have improved the experience was if she, too, had mentored her younger colleague. It wasn’t until she had grasped Snapchat well enough to take over the New York Times account for a day that she asked her mentor, “What do I have to offer?”
So really, the best mentorships are balanced. It can be hard to ask for help, and to remember to offer it in return. But don't hesitate to surface your own strengths and offer guidance in return -- that "give and take" approach helps both parties see the value in the relationship. It becomes clear that that the investment of time is worthwhile.
Not to mention, helping someone out makes you feel good. As my colleague Adrianne Ober put it, "Being a mentor can be a huge boost to your own confidence. When people ask me questions, I go, 'Oh, wow. You want to know what I think?"
3) Leverage your own network.
A few years ago, I was in the midst of a very difficult career decision and didn't know who to ask for advice. It wasn't until several weeks that I realized I had an entire network -- former clients, supervisors, and colleagues -- to call upon for mentorship. Why hadn’t I turned to them earlier?
It turns out that most of us suffer from something called inattentional blindness, which is essentially the psychological term for not being able to see what’s right in front of us, so to speak. So when we’re particularly engaged in a decision or situation that’s occupying most of our time, inattentional blindness could explain why we miss helpful resources that are actually quite readily accessible -- like our own respective networks.
Once you take stock of your network, you might be surprised how well-received a request for advice can be. And unless you’ve burned every professional bridge you’ve ever known, there’s likely someone in your life whose advice you can seek. They might even be able to introduce you to someone in their network that fits your criteria.
4) Know what it is that you need.
When seeking a mentor, it's important that you're (at the very least) prepared to answer one pivotal question: “So, what do you want?”
Be sure to have some goals in mind when you seek out this kind of guidance. Knowing that will achieve two things -- getting the information you need, and being able to seek out the right kind of mentor.
Take my above example of when I sought mentorship within my own network to help with a difficult decision -- to quit a bad job without having another one lined up. I didn’t want to be shut down with a hard “no.” But I also didn’t want a quick, impractical “yes.” I needed someone who could pragmatically walk through the pros and cons, and evaluate options that I hadn’t thought of. (There it is again -- inattentional blindness.)
When you look for a mentor, make sure you have a comprehensive purpose in mind. Think of the difficult questions you haven’t been able to ask. Having those criteria in mind will help you find the right person to provide the guidance you need.
5) Attach the right parameters to "success."
In addition to experienced, wise, and older, we tend to think of the best mentors as successful. But there’s a problem -- like “experience,” “success” today take s many different forms.
Our reasons for seeking advice are diverse, and with them come varied signs of success. Some traditional metrics are outdated -- having great wealth, finding a spouse, and settling down in a big house isn’t everyone’s idea of accomplishment. In fact, most people value happiness at work over a big salary -- almost 70% would take a pay cut for a job that they were passionate about.
Maybe that’s what you need in a mentor -- someone who has taken risks and can help make yours more calculated. Or maybe you’re not sure what it is that’s going to make you happy, and need someone to objectively work that out.
The point is, don’t discount a potential mentor simply because his or her life doesn’t fit the mold of what’s stereotypically deemed successful. In fact, if someone is truly happy at work -- which only 38% of people say they are -- that, to me, is a sign of success.
It’s Your Turn.
Ready to get out there and start building these valuable relationships? You’ve got this. But remember, mentorship is just that -- a relationship.
Show gratitude for what your mentor brings to the table. But don’t ignore what you have to offer -- ask how you can be of service, too. Even if you’re an expert on a given topic, chances are, you have something you can teach.
And don’t forget to pay it forward. Even if there isn’t an occasion when your mentor asks you for help, plenty of others could use it. That could be anyone -- not just other professionals. Check out the National Mentoring Partnership to learn how to work with kids at an earlier stage.
How did you meet your best mentors? Let us know in the comments.
Originally published Oct 7, 2016 8:00:00 AM, updated December 14 2017