When we’re younger, many of us rely on the elders in our lives to guide us through new experiences. Our kindergarten teacher helps us navigate rules of the classroom, and our little league coach guides us through our first game of baseball. But as we get older, we don’t always automatically have someone to fill that position. This January, in celebration of National Mentoring Month, we’re taking a closer look at what mentoring is and how it can help provide you with direction and confidence in both your career and personal life.
A mentor is someone with more experience in a certain field, subject matter, or skill set who shares their knowledge and advice with someone who has less experience (the mentee). Youth mentorship programs are the most well-known, and therefore many people assume that a mentor always must be an adult with a young mentee. But that’s not the case! There’s a world of mentorship opportunities available to adults.
Mentor vs. Coach
At first, a mentor may sound like the same thing as a coach, but they are different. Notably, coaching is performance driven and is often designed to help achieve a certain goal. There are often tangible exercises you are expected to do, and the coaching relationship will likely end once the goal is attained.
Like a football coach whose goal is to help their team train and win games, a career coach is trying to help you achieve a certain goal, like becoming a manager at a finance firm. They will help you find companies to apply to and work to strengthen your interview skills. Once you receive a job offer, the work of the career coach is done. On the other hand, a career mentor will share their experience with you, give you advice, connect you with their network, and offer support and guidance. There is no “expiration date” on the mentee-mentor relationship—in fact, you may continue to meet and communicate with the same mentor for your entire career.
Types of Mentorships
Mentor-mentee relationships can be set up in different formats, each coming with their own unique benefits. Most mentorships will fall under the following categories, all of which can be conducted both in person and virtually:
One on One
- Traditional: A mentor, who has more experience and knowledge in a certain area, is helping the mentee, someone who is less experienced.
- Peer: Two people with similar levels of knowledge and experience on a topic mentor each other. This is designed to build a support system where both people can learn together and hold each other accountable.
- Reverse mentoring: Someone who has less experience mentors someone who has more experience. Even though the mentor has less experience, they may still have knowledge on topics that the mentee does not. For example, the less-experienced mentor may have more recent education/training that wasn’t available when the mentee began their career.
- Standard group: One mentor works with multiple mentees. This could be an extracurricular class for kids, a group at work meeting with a senior in the field, etc.
- Team: Multiple mentors and multiple mentees all work together. According to guider-ai.com, “this type of mentoring can help to promote diversity and inclusion, as it creates a space for a number of different people, with different opinions and perspectives to come together and learn from one another.”
There are mentors who focus on every topic imaginable. Here are just a few examples from the vast variety of mentorships available:
- Learning the specific skills related to your job
- Gaining insights on your industry
- Networking within your industry, or an industry you wish to be a part of
- Leadership and management skills
- Learning from someone who has experience starting their own business
- Learning from people you relate to or aspire to be like, such as women in STEM careers or immigrant business owners
- This isn’t limited to career-related topics. There are mentors who focus on parenting skills, productivity, health and wellness, and much more
- Helping students choose a career path
- Advising which schools to apply to
How to Become a Mentor
If you’re on the experienced end of the spectrum when it comes to your career or a certain subject matter, consider becoming a mentor. It’s a great way to give back to your community! Here at LifeWorking, we’re always looking for mentors to join our CIC Business Incubator team that offers guidance and support to local entrepreneurs. If you’re an owner, CEO, or business leader that would like to get involved, you can apply here.
For those who aren’t local to the Chicagoland area, check out The Mentoring Connector on mentoring.org to find programs that are hiring mentors.
If you work for an organization that would like to implement a mentorship program, January is the perfect time to do so. According to tenthousandcoffees.com, “National Mentoring Month can help build momentum for your program. Throughout January, there are officially recognized days you can leverage to promote your initiatives.” You can learn more about them at https://www.tenthousandcoffees.com/national-mentoring-month-2022.
- Be upfront about expectations, like how often you’re willing to meet with your mentee
- Actively listen to your mentee and tailor advice to their needs
- Use your connections to open doors for your mentee
- Offer suggestions, but ultimately let them make their own decisions
On the flip side, a good mentee will:
- Be open to suggestions
- Be flexible and respect their mentor’s schedule
- Come prepared with questions and topics they’d like to learn about
How To Find a Mentor
Finding a mentor is fairly easy, although you should keep in mind that you may need to speak with several different candidates to find the one whose experience resonates with you the most. To get those connections started, reach out to your personal network or turn to the internet. Some websites, like score.org can help you find a mentor for free. You may also consider platforms like mentorcruise.com or growthmentor.com that cost a fee but come with additional membership perks.
If you’re local to the Chicago area, spending a day at the LifeWorking office is a great way to meet people in a variety of fields. Grab your free day pass for first-time LifeWorkers, come to our headquarters in Lake Forest, and start up some conversations with the people you meet. Our members have an impressive array of experience to share!