If you're a career-oriented woman looking to rise in the ranks, you may be craving advice from those you admire. But finding someone to bestow their wisdom on you isn't always as simple as asking. When it comes to getting guidance, it's important to know how to find a mentor at work in a way that benefits both parties and forges an actual relationship.
When done right, successful women agree that a mentorship can be invaluable when it comes to climbing the ladder or even embarking on a business idea of your own. "My favorite quote is, 'You can't be what you can't see,'" shares Belma McCaffrey, CEO and founder of Work Bigger, a resource for those looking to advance their careers. "A mentor can model what growth and success look like, and for women who work in male-dominated industries, this is especially important."
Ahead, four successful women weigh in on the benefits of having a mentor and how to build a relationship that'll help you grow. Whether you find yourself in a career rut, at a crossroads, or you need advice before taking on a new challenge, an industry professional with more years of experience can help propel you along your own career path.
Focus On The Relationship
No, getting a mentor isn't as easy as asking a CEO if they're up for the task. While you can be intentional about seeking out guidance, it's essential to find one you mesh with so the connection you build is organic. "I think, as with any relationship, it all starts with a connection," says Alison Engstrom, founding editor of ROSE + IVY, a digital magazine. "I believe that it’s very important to find a mentor that is passionate, positive and champions greatness within you, but also challenges and pushes you to be your best self. It’s also important to find someone that can make the time to either chat on the phone, maybe twice a month (or the occasional SOS) or to meet in person every so often."
Get On The Radar Of Upper-Level Colleagues
Instead of keeping your head down and waiting to be noticed, look for opportunities that will put you on the radar of higher-level colleagues. "You have to realize that the more you give, the more you’ll get," says Audrey McLoghlin, CEO and founder of the clothing companies Frank & Eileen and Grayson. "When you go above and beyond what you’re required to do, the next thing you know, you get exposed to things you wouldn’t otherwise get exposed to, or get handed responsibilities that are above your experience level."
She adds that while taking on new challenges can be overwhelming, it also presents the opportunity to seek help from experienced colleagues. If there's a specific project or situation you're having difficulty navigating, "you can ask a million questions and really learn from someone," she points out.
Aim For Multiple Mentors Instead Of Just One
Turns out, you don't have to tap the shoulder of the one person who's landed your dream job. Instead, consider reaching out to people who have different skillsets, ones you'll need to grow in your career. "I think it’s okay to have different mentors for different things," says Engstrom. "Say you want a creative mentor, or business mentor, or just a life mentor. People have different skillsets that might be more applicable to certain questions, challenges, or obstacles that you have."
Liz Wessel, co-founder and CEO WayUp, a resource where recent grads can find jobs, internships, and career advice, has had success with this approach, herself. "I have one mentor who helped me with the investor side of my business, one mentor who helped me through marketing, and another mentor who helps me think through management and operations of my company," she explains, adding, "I think about each mentor in a different way."
If you're not having success making connections in your workplace, you can have luck making connections on networking sites like LinkedIn or even sending cold emails — if done the right way. "To be clear, you should never lead with ‘I’m looking for a mentor,'" reminds Wessel. "Rather, email a person noting that you’re looking for advice in a particular area, and why you feel that their background or skillset could help you. You have to do your research; read interviews they have done, [look at] their LinkedIn profile, and research what they have accomplished in their career. It’s not just about their job title."
Join A Supportive Community
McCaffrey suggests another out-of-office approach: Join a supportive group or community, whether in-person or online. "It can feel really awkward asking someone to invest time in your growth unless you already work together or there's an established relationship," she admits. "I think it's much easier to find a mentor who is a right fit through communities and women's groups. This way, you're participating in a space where you have shared values and interests and you can take time building a relationship."
One of the goals of Work Bigger is to help foster such relationships. "We encourage networking through communities because the connections are facilitated and not random," she explains. "You're in a space where you're learning from each other and observing each other's work. That icky feeling isn't there when you're making an ask."
Take Inspiration From Anti-Mentors
It's inspiring to hear advice from those whose careers you admire, but you can also learn a lot from those whose footsteps you don't want to follow. "I believe in mentors as much as I believe in anti-mentors," says Engstrom. "This might sound like a strange concept, but at various times when I was searching for a mentor — maybe I didn’t know what direction to go, or I felt discouraged, lost or frustrated — I looked to those whose careers or lives that I didn't want to emulate. When you feel lost in your career or maybe you need answers about your next move, it’s sometimes easier to know what you don’t want, so that can clear the path for what you ultimately do want and deserve."