Posted by Cathy McCabe.
Women in leadership roles are well known for being busy, so it’s understandable why junior coworkers are often shy to reach out for advice and encouragement. But in my experience, no matter how busy someone is, they will gladly make time in their schedule for ambitious young colleagues seeking a role model.
At present, I am mentoring three young people who want to move up in their careers and have asked for coaching. I find the relationships incredibly rewarding.
If you’re on the lookout for a mentor, you’ve already taken a massive career step: You’ve admitted you need some guidance on your way to the top—and you’re ready to benefit from the experience of someone higher up. Here are my top tips for mentees:
- Mentorship is often HR-driven, but it doesn’t have to be. Leaders are often very willing to mentor informally, if someone reaches out to them directly. Many young employees don’t even know that mentorship is an option, let alone one that’s actively encouraged by would-be mentors delighted to pass on knowledge and give support. If I see potential in someone, I become very enthusiastic about mentoring them and, therefore, make the time to meet with my mentees informally, roughly once a month.
- When seeking out a mentor, it’s okay to reach out to more than one person. An old friend was a cardiologist and I once asked her how she picked her area of medicine. She told me that cardiology somehow picked her; pediatrics wasn’t offended. Point being, it has to be the right fit. It’s really important that you feel comfortable enough to tell your mentor anything, and be open to constructive feedback from them. A good coach sees qualities in you that you may not necessarily see in yourself. That alone can be really empowering. It also makes you more open to hearing about your areas for improvement, and how to best work around your weaknesses. Choose a mentor who can be honest with you about your shortcomings. People often assume that a career coach needs to be older, but someone around the same age with valuable.
- Approach your mentor with a clear agenda. I like it when a mentee comes to me and can communicate their needs unambiguously and unapologetically. How do I network? What steps do I need to take to pursue that dream role? These are good examples of specific objectives. Be bold!
And if someone has done you the honor of asking you to be a mentor, here are my top tips for being a great one:
- Even when a mentee comes to me for specific advice on networking or career opportunities, I try to encourage a bigger-picture perspective that includes looking at how they plan to maximize their workplace savings opportunities. Focused on promotions and raises, they may not have the necessary skills to wisely manage the money that comes their way. Millennials will likely have several jobs over the years, and a hard nut to crack is getting them to not cash out their 401(k) each time they move on to another company. I’m a big fan of using fun and social online incentives, in the form of “gamified” personal finance apps, to help improve financial habits. These online tools engage users in short-term challenges, much like those activity trackers that measure the number of steps you walk, your heart rate, and sleep quality. People are likely to save more when they get positive reinforcement, not only from a mentor, but from peers on these apps. I also make sure that they have a budget—because even if they get that promotion and pay raise, financial security is impossible without good budgeting. It’s not always fun to do, but again, there are fantastic online tools that make it fun. To begin, you need to know what’s going in and out before you can construct a savings plan.
- As well as career advice and counseling, you can go a step further by offering actual career opportunities for the right person; by opening doors that words of wisdom can’t open alone. To really help boost someone’s career, you might consider expanding your role from mentor to sponsor. The gain for you as a sponsor is having that brilliant young talent.
- Build up resilience in mentees. Mentoring isn’t just about guiding people towards the right opportunities, it’s also about how they react to situations. For example, when you go for that promotion and don’t get it, how will you react? How do you manage those natural feelings of disappointment, or even injustice, and turn them into productive action within a professional environment? Perhaps the job was given to someone with demonstrable managerial experience, which leads to the question, “how can I demonstrate my leadership skills?” -so the next time an opportunity comes along, they are unstoppable!
I’m proud to say that each of my mentees was offered a management role after demonstrating, in different ways, their leadership skills. All three are successful, making their mark.
Statistically, men ask for a promotion more readily; women want to feel 100% ready before they feel confident enough to step up. That’s why I especially encourage young women to reach out to someone they admire at work. I bet they will be flattered, and glad of the opportunity to give their time.