Updated: Aug 14, 2019
by Stephanie Mitton
You are likely heard that it’s important to have a mentor in order to advance your career. Still, it’s advice worth repeating. According to a Plan Canada study, 65% of Canadian women report they have never received mentorship and those that have them are 30% more likely to advance in their careers, shares this week’s podcast guest, Caroline Riseboro, CEO of Plan Canada.
Caroline is critical of the mentor/mentee relationship, and it is easy to see why. She describes her concern with the use of power to advance careers, describing how it is like going to "find someone with lots of power and have them use their power to try to advance you along.” I had never considered the power dynamic of mentorship until Caroline pointed it out, and it is an important fact to consider. In the episode, she highlights the role each of us can play in advancing our own careers and the idea that we should all mentor everyone. I love this idea.
Personally, having mentors has made a huge difference in my own career development. I grew up in a rural community and moved to Ottawa for University, where I would eventually begin my professional career. I started work in politics, and I did not know anyone who worked in politics or even what to wear to work. It is by collecting mentors along the way that I was able to navigate the very basics of my professional career. I remember the first day of my volunteer gig at Parliament Hill. I took the wrong bus going to work. I had no idea that busses with the same numbers could go in different directions because there was no public transit where I came from. At times in university I felt behind my peers, many who grew up in political environments, whose parents worked for the government, and who had access to politics and economic courses in high school that I did not. I came from behind and played catch up, working hard to get to where I am today. But mentorship helped me catch up. What has worked for me was not having a formal mentor/mentee relationship, but rather to build authentic relationships with people, and as Caroline suggests, doing this with many people.
So… we know we need mentorship, but finding and building these relationships can be hard and scary. I have included my tips below to get you started!
1. You have a role to play. It is no one else’s responsibility to advance your career. You must put in the work and build the skills to advance your own career. Your direct boss can’t be your mentor (it is too awkward, and they may have good intentions, but they are ultimately responsible for the advancement of the company, not you). YOU are the only person that has your sole interests at heart. Caroline talks about using positive self-talk and overcoming the lies we tell ourselves to help overcome the personal barriers we create.
2. Everyone can be your mentor. In our interview Caroline says, “we can be a mentor to everybody, which is unleashing the power of everybody we come across to be their best self… that is way more powerful than, I am going to choose this one person and mentor them along the way.” This is great advice. What helped me is going to different people for different kinds of advice, if you have the mindset that everyone can be a mentor, the person you ask about salary in your industry doesn’t have to be the same person you ask about tips for networking. You don’t have to know the CEO or VP to make your next move, and those people likely don’t have adequate time to invest in your advancement anyway.
3. Look at your current network. You may be surprised who is already in your network (family/friends/colleagues) that can offer advice. If they can’t help you, they may know someone who can. I have found finding a colleague that is a level above me on a different team is a great mentorship relationship, they know you, they are not in competition with you, they know how to move up, and they are not your direct supervisor.
4. Network to find one. If you don’t have a network of mentors waiting in the wing, you can build one. A good tool to start with is our FREE networking resource that you receive by joining our newsletter on our website. Find it here (scroll down to get on the list).
5. Build a virtual relationship. You don’t need to “know” someone to be mentored by them. People like Rachel Hollis (author, speaker, podcaster, COO) give away their expert advice for free! Rachel has a podcast and if you are interested in entrepreneurialism it is a FREE way to get her advice. And if you have the means you can also purchase her courses and attend her events. There are people giving out free content on every topic through blogs, courses, tv shows, Netflix specials (at a cost), podcasts, books (library), social media and even live chats where you can interact with them directly.
I hope these tips that have helped me help you too. I am passionate about supporting others to be their best selves, you will find many people are happy to help, not only does it feel like the right thing to do but many people have helped us get to where we are today and we are happy to support others.
One final comment on formal vs. informal mentor relationships. I have found the best way to approach conversations with people I would like to learn from is to ask them for coffee and tell them you want to get their advice or just ask questions in an informal setting. You will be surprised how happy people are to help, just ask!
If you have any other tips you would like to share please leave a comment, we would love to hear what you would add to this list.
You can find my interview with Caroline here or wherever you listen to podcasts. Just search "womendontdothat."