It seems like everywhere young career women turn to for advice on how to become successful, we’re told finding a mentor is key. The importance of having a mentor (person who will advise you) as well as a sponsor (person who will use their influence to advocate for you) with regards to career progression cannot be overstated, the wisdom of mentors will help avoid mistakes and clean up ones that you weren’t smart enough to avoid.
The sad part is, mentors are not available to order on Amazon and women are still grossly underrepresented in the workforce at every level. According to Lean In, “From the onset, fewer women than men are hired at entry level, and at every subsequent level, the representation of women further declines with only one in five senior leaders being a woman, and one in twenty-five is a woman of colour.”
Owing to the urgency placed around having a mentor for career success and the limited number of senior women available, most young women have resorted to asking people they admire, a simple question: “Will you be my mentor?” The problem with that question is it can sometimes feel like the equivalent of being asked “Will you marry me?” – whilst on the first date.
As suggested by Sheryl Sandberg, in her book ‘Lean In’, here are some tips for finding the right mentor without having to ask the awkward proposal.
“Searching for a mentor has become the modern-day equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming”. (Page 66)
The belief that all young women need to succeed is a mentor to prop them up and give them a road map to success, is constantly being reinforced by all the “find yourself a mentor” talk. This can sometimes make women feel as though they themselves play a passive role in the journey to their own success. Follow the popular saying ‘start before you’re ready’, essentially meaning stop waiting for all the dots to connect before going after your dreams. Women should be encouraged to start before they find a mentor, start pursuing those dreams while displaying your strong leadership, problem-solving and analytical skills, and when the opportunity to develop a mentorship relationship comes, a point of interest will already exist between you and the mentor.
Oprah said, “I mentor when I see something and say ‘I want to see that grow’” Mentors are found in the midst of working. Instead of thinking, “Get a mentor and you’ll excel”, think “excel and you will get a mentor”
Build real relationships.
“The strongest relationships spring out of a real and often earned connection felt by both sides” (Page 67)
The mentor-mentee relationship is a real relationship, that springs forth from having an existing rapport, which is why expecting a mere stranger to be your mentor is quite weird. Ask yourself, “How can I help this person?”. Mentorship is often a reciprocal relationship, mentees may receive direct assistance but mentors receive benefits too. Everyone has something they will appreciate help with, take some time to figure out how you too can be of use to this person. Humans always feel obligated to return favours.
Exceed every expectation.
“People invest in those who stand out for their talent or who can really benefit from help” (Page 68)
Excellence is the real name of the game. No matter how courteous, funny and ambitious you are, being excellent trumps all of that. Optimum performance shows promise of distinct potential, the best protégés are selected with this in view.
“Always have an interesting point or thoughtful question.”
When you contact people, be respectful of their time. There’s no point asking questions that our trusted friend Google has a direct answer to. Mentors continue to invest when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback. Always follow up to let them know that you implemented their advice and what the results were, that way it becomes apparent that you’re focused, determined to improve and that they are adding value to your career.
Do your homework
“Capturing someone’s attention or imagination in a minute can be done, but only when planned & tailored to that individual”. (Page 69)
Do some research about what your mentor cares about. Approaching a stranger with a pointed, well-thought-out question is a better approach than “Will you mentor me?” Figure out how you want your prospective mentor to help you and engage them in a way that will interest them, in order to avoid vague questions and conversations. You will be able to maximise time and discuss specific opportunities.
Peers can also mentor you.
To reinforce the previous point, your mentor doesn’t have to be significantly older than you. They just need to be someone who has gone through the stage that you’re currently in. A girl that graduated university three years before you can share advice on how to break into the industry because she has been through it and her experience is probably more very relevant than someone who graduated 20 years ago.
Join an official mentorship program
More and more of these programs continue to spring up, such as digital advice hotline Mogul. Find one that is relevant to you and your industry and sign up.
Women with mentors are more likely to ask for ‘stretch assignments’ and pay raises when compared to their peers without mentors. Mentorship helps women move from playing small by only asking for permission to start a project, to asking for answers on projects they already took the lead on starting. It helps women stand a chance in the uneven landscape of the professional world.
And when the time is right! Give back and become a mentor.