A professional mentor is someone whose advice you can trust and depend on; who will lift you up, yet be honest with you when push comes to shove. A good mentor sees you through the best of times and the not-so-great and is often one of your biggest cheerleaders.
If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like the role of a close friend, you’re actually not too far off. A mentor can, in many ways, take on the role of a professional BFF—and who ever said a friend couldn’t make a great career mentor?
After all, your friends are there to celebrate when you’ve achieved a major milestone, to sympathize when you’re going through a rough patch, and to give advice when you’re struggling with a difficult decision. So it’s only natural that they’d be there for you in a professional sense as well.
This is where the concept of a “friendtor” comes in. It’s the idea that one of the best people you can have in your social arsenal is an honest, trustworthy friend who can double as a professional mentor—someone you can turn to not only for fun times and memories, but also for advice and support in your career.
Having friends who are as committed to career growth as you are can help you be better at your job and happier in your personal life. Here’s why.
They Get You
Most mentors only know you in a professional sense, even if they do have some knowledge of your personal life. Friends, however, have the luxury of context: They may have known you for many years, know your family and social group, and have seen you confront previous challenges. This depth of familiarity can be key when it comes to giving you honest, helpful, trustworthy advice.
For example, while a professional mentor may urge you to take a lucrative job in another city without a second thought, a close friend would know more about your priorities and values. Maybe you’re extremely close with your sister who lives nearby and want to stay put no matter the price tag. A friendtor can acknowledge the difficulty a move would pose, and can help you work through the pros and cons of making a huge life change. (Related: Is your mentor giving you bad advice?)
They Widen Your Circle
If you work at a tech startup and your friendtor is an accountant at a big firm, you’ve hit the networking jackpot and expanded your connections threefold. While it can be great to talk to someone in your field (where mentors usually come from), the reality is that the wider your circle, the more likely you are to make diverse connections that can open your eyes to new contacts, business opportunities, and career paths.
Friendtors are Forever
If your friendtor happens to be one of your lifelong friends, he or she will be there as your life changes and priorities shift. Say, for instance, you get married and have a child. Your friend can help you adjust to your new role as a parent, while helping you find ways to keep your professional skills strong while you’re on leave—or maybe even babysit when you need to stay late at work.
Keep in mind, however, that not every friend is made for a friendtor role. Have you ever been out with a group of friends when the topic of work comes up? Perhaps you’re asking for advice about how to cope with a difficult boss. There’s bound to be that one friend who says, “Seriously? Why do you care so much? More drinks please!” Maybe you share a love for Crossfit and music festivals, but the truth is, you’re just not on the same wavelength when it comes to professional growth. And that’s fine—just don’t expect to count on this person to understand when you have to skip happy hour to finish a big project or to give you advice when you’re passed over for a promotion.
Friendtors, on the other hand, are the people who will spend hours listening to a story about a big misunderstanding with your boss and why it’s bothering you. And vice versa, friendtors will come to you when they’ve set up a big interview and need help role-playing tricky questions.
Friendtors can be your biggest career cheerleaders because they have the benefit of context about who you are (aside from a driven professional, of course). They can give advice tailored to you and your values, they’re accessible, and, best of all, they can double as your Saturday night partner in crime. Friendtors are so essential because, like an awesome blazer, they can seamlessly transition from work to play. So before you start looking for a new job or wondering where to go for career advice, evaluate the people in your life to identify friendtors, and start there.