Why Get a Mentor
Having a mentor can mean the difference between advancing your career and remaining stagnant. Any upwardly mobile professional should actively seek out at least two mentors. The first should be someone influential in your current company, but not your boss or your boss’s boss. The second should be someone influential in your industry—a great place to start is your Alpha Phi alumnae chapter. See if anyone in the chapter could make a good mentor or knows somebody who could fill that purpose.
If you’re not sure who to choose, test the waters first. Spark conversation with some possible mentors by asking their advice on a topic or situation. You can gauge by how they answer—the time they give you, the thoroughness of the response, the attitude (helpful? condescending?), the general vibe you get—whether they’d make a good mentor or not. You can also ask the potential mentor’s subordinates what they think of him or her. And don’t rule out a peer mentor. Someone at your career level may not have all the experience of a mentor at a higher echelon, but a peer can provide many other aspects of mentorship. In general, you want to choose someone you feel will care about your success, because you’ll get more out of it if they are dedicated to the “cause,” so to speak.
A mentorship can be formal or less structured, but either way, the relationship should be considered a long-term commitment, not a one-off conversation. The key to having a mentor is having contact at least a few times a year. During that time, your mentors can refer you to other influential individuals as well as organizations that will be valuable to your career.
Once you’ve narrowed down the potential mentors to your favorites, you can ask them directly whether they’d be willing to be your mentor. If they say yes, arrange a short meeting to set up expectations, topics of discussion and a meeting schedule. Remember to express your gratitude throughout the mentorship.
What can a mentor do for you?
1. Share knowledge. You can read all about your profession, but a mentor is there to tell you what it’s really like and how things are actually done.
2. Urge improvement. You’re not going to know everything at first, and you’re not expected to, but a mentor can point out your weaknesses with a different agenda than a boss. A mentor wants to see you succeed under their “wings,” so they’ll provide the constructive criticism for you to grow.
3. Encourage learning. Like a teaching hospital where doctors constantly test their interns and residents with questions, a mentor can do the same. Maybe he or she will help you set some goals or ask you open-ended questions to ponder and discuss later.
4. Serve as a cheerleader. No question, your Alpha Phi sisters will always have your back, but in your career, it’s beneficial to have someone close by who knows first-hand what you’re going through—bonus if that mentor is an Alpha Phi too. Again, your mentor wants to see you do well and will keep cheering you on. If you’re having a bad day, your mentor can be the person you turn to for a pep talk, assistance muscling through a difficult situation and a boost of confidence to keep going.
5. Act as therapist of sorts. You should be able to tell your mentor anything, no judgments. And in turn, your mentor should be able to provide an unbiased opinion or suggestion.
6. Help you network. Here’s an older, wiser, more experienced person right at your disposal. Use them—they shouldn’t mind. They can share their networks and make introductions when the time is right.