But the idea of having to find and ask someone to be your mentor can be intimidating. Who would you even ask? What do you even talk to them about?
A lot of these fears can prevent us from seeking out someone to lean on, but in reality a mentorship relationship’s easier to cultivate than you think. To prove it, I talked with four of my fellow Musers about their experiences.
Myth 1: You Need to Formally Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor
Alex Osten, an account manager, started meeting with the dean of her business school during her junior year at Pace University. As someone who was very involved in the school, she wanted to share her feedback and had heard that the dean loved working with and listening to students.
“We eventually started talking about me and my aspirations and built a natural relationship over time,” says Osten. By the time she reached the end of her junior year, they were meeting about once a month to discuss her next steps after college.
“Having someone I admired who I could casually ask for career advice and learn soft skills from was super helpful. I never formally asked him to be my mentor, but our relationship evolved into a friendship as we kept in touch after graduation through email, phone, social media, and meeting for coffee every once in a while,” says Osten.
“Let the relationship progress naturally,” suggests Osten. “Find someone who has a career you admire and ask to take them to coffee. Asking for casual career advice can be a great gateway into mentorship!”
Myth 2: Your Mentor Has to Be in Your Field
Talent Acquisition Coordinator Jae Young had remote experience in their field, but was looking to gain experience working in an office.
“My previous internship gave me the right kind of field experience for my career interests, but I never got to meet anyone, have my own desk, join a meeting, or work on a team,” says Young.
So, when a family friend mentioned that he needed urgent help with his business, 24 Hours of Lemons—a motorsports company—Young decided to take a chance and ask for an internship. They went on to work seasonally for the company for six years.
Though the motorsports industry didn’t interest Young—and ironically they didn’t have a driver’s license—they found aspects of the business that they enjoyed, such as the strong, diverse community and the circus-like showmanship of the races. Working alongside an entrepreneur also gave Young a lot of exposure into the field of entrepreneurship, which wasn’t an area they’d previously considered.
“It’s been very beneficial for me as a professional to have someone to talk to who has an executive’s perspective to help me navigate challenges, who can be trusted to be truthful, and who cheers me on. Surprisingly, I’ve realized in working with him that I’d really like to be an entrepreneur myself,” says Young.
As Young can testify, it’s useful to have an open mind when considering potential mentors: “Most of the information that’s relevant to your industry you can find anywhere. It’s way more important that your mentor is someone that you can speak candidly with—their relevance to your field doesn’t necessarily matter. Through my mentorship, I was able to learn a lot about how all businesses work, even if the industry wasn’t the same as my career aspirations.”
Myth 3: Your Mentor Has to Live in the Same City as You
Marcia Howard, Production Director, was feeling a little lost in her career after becoming a mom.
“I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to go back to work and needed help figuring out what my career path would be if I did go back,” recalls Howard. Thankfully, she’d kept in touch with her former boss from when she worked at a startup in Berlin.
“After I moved back to America and she’d moved to London, we kept in touch by emailing back and forth about once a month,” says Howard. “We would mostly talk about our lives outside of work, so we got to know each other better on a personal level.” This personal relationship is what prompted Howard to ask her former boss for advice, who sent Howard specific thought exercises that helped her find her career path.
According to Howard, she actually got more out of the relationship by communicating with her mentor over email as opposed to meeting with her in person. “I’m better at expressing my thoughts when I have time to think them over instead of being put on the spot,” she says.
If you feel similarly, Howard suggests: “If you work with someone you trust and admire, keep in touch with them through email after you’re no longer working together. That way, when you need guidance, you always have someone you can turn to.”
Read More: How Do I Ask My Former Boss to Be My Mentor?
Myth 4: You Can Only Have One Mentor
Early in his career, Daniel Zana—now a senior video editor—was working as an assistant editor for a number of reality shows. Editors in this field work for the duration of a show’s season, which can range anywhere from three weeks to six months or more. From a practical standpoint, that means they have new co-workers all the time, and therefore access to a lot of potential mentors.
“Since I was still somewhat green in the ways of editing for TV, I learned that I could pop in and ask questions of the various editors. I quickly learned that certain editors were great for graphics questions, others were better to talk about the process, some were best to discuss career growth, and some preferred to work quietly and didn’t like to be disturbed,” says Zana.
The main takeaways from Zana’s experience is that you shouldn’t turn to only one person for advice, and that mentors can be anyone—even the person sitting next to you.
“Get a lay of the land and try to get a sense of who you can ask for what. And remember that by asking questions, you not only will learn new things, but you’re showing engagement and interest in the job you’re doing,” advises Zana.
Inspired to find a mentor yourself? As these stories prove, they can come from anywhere, and finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. So tap into your network and get the guidance you need.