Four Ways to Bring Your Mentorship Experience to the Next Level
March 28, 2022
Do I need a mentor? How would I even find one? These were the questions buzzing in my head as the alumni speaker, Liz Tigelaar, gave her speech at my commencement ceremony last May. Adorned in graduation regalia, I sat and listened as she described her post-grad experience moving across the country to work for a producer on the set of a small independent film. That producer, named Elke, became the speaker’s mentor over the course of her career and would eventually accompany her to the red carpet premiere of the hit TV show she would produce over 20 years later.
“When you leave here, whatever you do, go find your Elke,” she encouraged.
And thus began my journey to find my Elke. This can be an especially daunting task for women in the corporate world, as almost two-thirds of women have never had a formal mentor. Furthermore, the pre-existing workplace gender inequities extend into mentorship. A recent study showed that 82% of men have had male mentors, while just 69% of women have had female mentors. This disparity impacts women of color even more. Women of color are 9% more likely than their white colleagues to view workplace mentorship as an avenue for allyship.
I was lucky enough to find my Elke almost immediately after graduation – Kristina King, vice president of the New York Financial Services Practice at FINN Partners.
In honor of Women’s History Month and in hopes of encouraging more female mentorship, I sat down with Kristina to get her thoughts on how to find the right mentor and how to best develop your mentor-mentee relationship. Here are some steps to help you find a mentor and maintain a constructive relationship:
Think Critically about the Best Mentor for You
You may automatically default to all of the people with more senior titles than you when you first begin thinking about mentorship. While this is a good place to start, there is a bit more that you must consider before diving in.
1. Follow the three-to-five year rule
“My biggest piece of advice is to find a mentor three-to-five years ahead of you, and another mentor three-to-five titles above you,” Kristina explained, noting that these mentors are often colleagues or more senior individuals at your company or organization. “The mentor three-to-five above you will provide a touchpoint for daily tasks and tactics, while the mentor three-to-five titles above you will provide a high-level touchpoint and broader perspective on your career and industry trajectory.”
While Kristina notes that the difference between these two groups will often be slim as you start your career, the difference in title and years of experience will increase as you advance through the rankings. They can also be people from within or outside of your industry and discipline – a simple LinkedIn search can help pinpoint a few individuals that may serve as potential mentors.
“I’ve mentored women who have cold messaged me on LinkedIn, and I’ve mentored people that I helped hire for their first internship or job position post-grad,” Kristina noted.
While it can be nerve-wracking, do not be afraid to message or email someone you feel could be a good mentor fit. Be clear in your messaging and what you are looking for from the relationship in the initial ask – if you have a specific ask, it is easier for a potential mentor to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to your request. The oft-used phrase ‘Can I pick your brain?’ is a very open-ended ask, whereas a ‘Could I please have 30 minutes of your time to discuss your career progression and any advice you may have for a new entrant to the field of public relations?’ is a very specific ask that may lead to longer-term mentorship.
2. Know the difference between a manager and mentor
Kristina adds that it’s important to note the distinction between a manager and a mentor. While your mentor and your manager can be the same person at times, the goals for how you approach these relationships should differ. A manager is meant to help you handle the day-to-day tasks of your role and ensure that you are up to par on all of your position’s benchmarks for success, evaluating your work and giving related feedback to help you succeed with a particular task or on a team or project.
A mentor is someone to give broader advice on your career path. You have the advantage of choosing the type of person after whom you would like to model your own career path. The right mentor should seek to make your path easier and/or more successful than the path that they followed at your stage in life and career.
Create a Constructive Relationship
You will get out of your mentor-mentee relationship what you put into it. The time you get to connect with your mentor may be somewhat limited.
3. Come prepared with an agenda
Studies show that the average mentor and mentee spend about four hours connecting per month. Prepare for your meetings with an agenda and advice you are seeking prepared beforehand.
“The outcome of your meeting will depend on how prepared and engaged you are,” Kristina advised. “Be strategic about your time and share your talking points and questions ahead of the discussion.”
She also mentioned that it is natural and okay to veer from prearranged topics, but the most effective sessions stem from preparation and a well-communicated desired outcome.
4. Be open to feedback
With asking for advice comes an open forum for feedback. It is not always easy to accept criticism graciously, but it is a skill that will make or break the relationship with your mentor.
“Mentors give you feedback because they want you to improve and grow,” Kristina shared. If your mentor is giving you advice, it is because they want you to have the tools and insights to develop successfully. When you are defensive, feedback may feel like an attack on your character or abilities. But that feedback is meant to make you stronger, Kristina added.
In short, be prepared, be respectful and be open-minded when growing your relationship with your mentor.
Mentors exist in your life in all different capacities. When it comes to professional mentors, be intentional with your relationship. You need to be your own biggest advocate when it comes to career advancement, and finding a mentor is a great avenue to help guide your journey.
Go out and find your Elke. Or your Kristina. Or an Elke and a Kristina. Whoever it is, be sure to nurture and grow your relationship to help you reach your full potential.