For Women Who Work: Finding a Mentor
We make clothes for women who work (among doing a ton of other things!), therefore, we want to have conversations about the challenges, celebrations and general experiences that have to do with working and growing professionally. Recently, a former, younger colleague reached out and asked the following question about mentorship:
“I need some feedback from positive, experienced women. Do you know of anyone along those lines--or even a group I might be able to join where I could get some support?”
There are many ways of addressing this and everyone has a different opinion. All we could do was respond in a way that was true to our experiences. Below is a summary:
First of all, it's great you want to find a mentor. You should pursue it! Working with experts will help you grow personally and professionally.
But first, define “mentor” and “mentorship.”
Before trying to find a mentor, you need to figure out exactly what you want to gain - ask yourself what are your goals and desires in finding a mentor. Do you want someone you can go to with professional questions and to discuss industry specific topics? Or do you want someone to act more like a guide. For example, the colleague mentioned above said:
I wanted to tell my story to someone more experienced and have them either commiserate or tell me how things are different for them. I wanted to hear their stories–what did you want to do? How did you go about getting it? And how did you wind up here when you originally wanted to be there?–Things like that.
After you think deeply and holistically about why you want a mentor and what you want to get out of it, then, define “mentor” and “mentorship.” Some characteristics to consider:
- A mentor acts as a guide for your professional and/or personal growth over the long-haul. They are invested in you and will be your advocate.
- They have more experience than you across a range of areas and can provide solid, unbiased feedback.
- You communicate and meet them with some consistency.
Now, some ways to find a mentor:
Finding a mentor can be challenging and take time. We’re not writing this to discourage anyone, but we want to be honest. HOWEVER - there are some things you can do to put yourself in a better position in finding one. Read on:
- Make your boss an unofficial mentor (at first). Go to your boss with one question a week that doesn’t necessarily have to do with your immediate tasks. You should be proactive in picking his or her brain. Or, if there is someone else in your company that you are interested in talking to, start there! Offer to take the person of interest out for a mid-day coffee.
- Join a club / Meetup group / entrepreneur group. You need to expand your network from which to draw from. At these type of organizations, you could end up directly meeting someone that would become a mentor, or meet other people who can make introductions to people you’d be interested in meeting with.
- Example from one of our customers: I was a member of NYWICI for a year (NY Women in Communications). A lot of women - from all backgrounds and experience levels were in the organization. There were some pretty big players in the media world there. If you join something like this, I recommend sitting in on the meetings for a while, then proactively taking on a project. That will get you noticed, and you end up working with those women. From there, you can kind of sniff around for someone that may be a good fit as a mentor.
- Go to as many events as you have the energy for and network. Here in NYC, General Assembly has some awesome ones. As does Hatch.
- Take on side projects (freelancing). You will get exposed to more people and clients this way, which a) enhances your experience anyway and b) you might find a long-standing freelance gig that isn't too hard to layer on your every-day job, working with someone really awesome.
- Reach out on Linkedin:
- Example from one of our customers: I've seen this work once: Someone reached out to one of my bosses on linkedin. The mentee found her comments in a luxury branding forum and reached out with a question. Now he visits her about once every 3 months and sends her emails in the meantime.
Related General Advice
If you are someone who is looking for a mentor, there are some things you can be doing that may actually fulfill some of the things you are looking to get out of a mentorship. One of those things is freelancing, as mentioned above. Additionally:
- Meet as many interesting people as you can. Put yourself out there by joining some type of group - ANY group. And be active in that group.Post, share, comment on their forums, meet up with people, lend your expertise when someone asks, etc. Seriously, we can't emphasize this enough.
- Take continuing ed classes. They aren't terribly expensive (maybe you can expense it through work!) and you will learn a lot. Even if it has nothing to do with your direct job - you’ll learn how to think differently. Also, you’ll meet teachers that you may want to keep in touch with, as well as other professionals in the class.
Once You Have a Mentor - Be Committed
Once you meet your mentor, YOU have to lead the relationship. This is important! This requires time, energy and commitment. Whomever ends up being your mentor is not going to be the one to put in major effort to keep the relationship alive. You must be proactive in calling, meeting and emailing them.
Do you have a mentor? What has this brought to your life? Do you think anything is missing from this list?
Let us know!