Last week, I was out to dinner when my friend shared with me that she’s going to leave her job. After the initial congratulatory support, I asked her: “why?” I knew she had been unhappy most of the time and I was proud of her for being brave enough to leave but I was curious to know what had finally led her to take the plunge.
“It’s terrible,” she told me. “I’m the last person in the office almost every night, I work my ass off, but the women there are just awful to me.”
“Do you not have anyone at work you can talk to? Any kind of support system?” I asked her.
I sat back for a moment, saddened and stunned, and thought about my own work experience. I thought about being pushed every day, feeling like everything I did was wrong, and wanting to quit some days. Then I thought about why I stayed. I thought about a colleague who adopted me as her little sister my first day of work. I thought about how her daily encouragement made me feel as though any mistakes I made were minor and that I can accomplish everything. My colleague was not just another coworker, not just the founder of Badass + Living, she was my friend. Brenda Della Casa was (and is) my mentor.
The next morning, I woke up early and started doing some research. I quickly found that mentors in the workplace are more common than I thought. Countless numbers of websites share tips on everything from how to find a mentor, to the benefits of having one, and even how you can be beneficial as a mentee. I was overwhelmed by how much literature there was on the workplace mentor. Upon realizing how important it is to have a mentor, I decided to share with you the three key points of what I have learned.
1. Finding a mentor.
An article for Forbes shared several tips for finding a mentor. While all of the tips are significant, it is my opinion that the first is the most important: “it’s critical to know that, to find great mentors, you don’t want to reach out to strangers,” (I would like to add: unless you have to). While many companies offer a mentorship program and will pair you with someone that you will work alongside, many do not and you will need to find a mentor for yourself. I have found that the best kind of mentor is one who you simply click with. For me, my mentor is someone I want to go get an after-work cocktail with and whom I text on a daily basis.
While your mentor may not be your BFF, or even a coworker (don’t limit yourself to just asking who you work with, your mentor might be someone in the same field at a different company), you definitely shouldn’t settle or impose upon a stranger if you don’t absolutely have to. If you are like me, new to the post-college working world, you will have a lot of questions for your mentor. And I mean a lot of questions. You might feel as though you are bothering them which might lead you to stop asking for help when you really need it. If your mentor is someone that you have a real connection with, it becomes a bit easier to interrupt their day for a moment. Believe me; they would rather be interrupted than be stressed for hours trying to fix your mistake later. Finding the right mentor is key in learning a business and how to be a good employee.
2. Benefiting from a mentor.
There are countless numbers of reasons for how someone can benefit from having a mentor in the workplace. A couple of years ago, The Wall Street Journal did a pretty good job of summing them up. There were many specific examples of men and women benefiting from their mentors, such as Tameka Davis’ experience: “She developed a five-year career plan, improved her networking skills and learned how to work better with clients.” Having a clear plan can help you figure out where you want to be in the future and being able to network can help you meet the right people to get you there. Being able to work well with clients can show those you network with what an asset you are.
If I were to sit down on my own and try to figure out a five-year plan it would probably end with me watching Netflix, drinking a bottle of wine, and pretending that the not-so-distant-future is still far enough away that I don’t have to worry about it. Having someone who is able to give you strong career advice and can hold you accountable is very important. They are able to relate to you because they have been in your shoes; they know how daunting the world can be, but they have lived your immediate future and come out on top. A mentor can guide you and motivate you in a way that neither friends nor family can. Someone who truly wants you to succeed in the business world will help you see the big picture while a friend may just encourage you to follow your dreams. Keep in mind, though, that the big picture might be leading you toward another career. A mentor can help you figure out if what you’re doing is really the right fit for you.
3. Being a benefit to your mentor.
When I first talked to Brenda about writing a piece on how I have benefited from having her, she immediately told me to look up reverse mentoring. She spoke to me about how I had helped her just as she had helped me. I honestly couldn’t believe it. All I want is to be beneficial to Brenda, to show her that I am learning and that I am grateful for everything she teaches me. But I’m not even a year out of college, how on earth could I be beneficial to anyone? Well, according to the Harvard Business Review I could be very important.
While every experience will differ, the most common benefit of reverse mentorship is that a Millennial will teach a senior employee about social media or other technology, but that is just the beginning. Reverse mentorship paves the way toward a company to having an open conversation about bettering the business: “Improving your company’s ability to give employees honest, timely, and useful coaching won’t benefit just your 20-something workers.” You never want to be stuck in a company that doesn’t want to hear your opinion because the higher-ups don’t believe you have the experience to be helpful.
In my experience, my mentor encourages feedback. For example, if she is being vague about something, she doesn’t want me to try and figure it out on my own; she pushes me to ask, “What on earth are you talking about?” I help her become clearer in what she is asking of me and in turn she is giving me the power to have a voice. Without Brenda, I would never have had the courage to point out that a senior employee might be incorrect. Without that voice, I could have potentially sat by quietly and allowed mistakes to be made. Brenda gave me the permission to be an equal, not just an employee.
Having a mentor is crucial, especially when you are first starting out your career. You could land your dream job, but, if you are like my friend and don’t have that support, you could be driven away. If you are unable to find a mentor that you know in your field, take a look at FindAMentor, an online database for matching mentors to mentees. While it is better to find a mentor that you know and have a connection with, in the end it is more important to have guidance and encouragement. My fellow Millennials, you are amazing, even if you don’t realize it. A mentor can give you that push you need to accept your inner badass and fully take charge of your career.