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The Four Mentors Necessary for Career Success

Emily Kapit, MS, CPRW, ACRW
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Published on March 31, 2015

I served on a career advisory panel the other day where one of the other speakers was talking about the importance of mentors and it made me think: Life – especially sometimes at work – is messy. Why are we always talking about having a mentor when multiple mentors would actually be that much more effective?

There are so many times when advice from different types of trusted advisors can be integral to your career growth. As such, here are the four mentors I believe are necessary for career success:

1) Someone in Your Field of Choice: Let’s start with the most obvious and common one; choose someone in the field where you wish to be. Whether you are still in school or have entered the workforce and are in your first entry-level job, identify someone in your chosen sector, connect with that person (hello, LinkedIn!), and ask for that person’s permission to use him/her as a mentor. Try to set up monthly meetings or conversations that cover a range of topics; examples include: “Why did you pick this field?”, “What was your career trajectory so far?”, “What has changed about the field since you entered it?”, “What do you think makes someone successful in this sector?”, and “If you had to it all over again, what would you change?” There are endless questions but these are a good selection to get your mentor conversation going.

2) The Friend Who is Doing it Right: We all have that friend who just shines in all areas of life, exceling at work, enjoying a great social life, hitting those life achievements, and generally appearing to have it all together. Ever wonder how he or she does it? I suggest meeting that person for a drink (if local) or setting up a Skype date (if not local) and asking your friend exactly that. The answer may surprise you – perhaps she is a big believer in The No Club (i.e., saying no to non-priorities) or he is a firm believer in focusing on just work, a few friends, and family. Learn from that friend and stay connected; a few good conversations may also yield what we all hope to be true: he or she is juggling the craziness of life just as much as you.

3) A Parental Figure: Whether or not you are a parent or even plan to be one, it helps to have a parental figure as a mentor, even for your career. This person does not have to be your parent so much as that elder in your life who keeps you grounded when it comes your career, personal growth, and overall life expectations. Some people find that professors from college or graduate school, a very senior manager, much older sibling, or an actual parent (go figure!) provide the best advice when you start out and as your career continues to evolve. Look to this person as the one who will provide you with the most objective, what-you-need-to-hear-when-you-need-to-hear-it kind of guidance.

4) The Person You Never Want to Be: We all have that individual (sometimes, more than one) who just rubs us the wrong way. From a career perspective, it may be a former boss who is just mean, a colleague who does nothing but takes all the credit anyway, or even someone from another department or company who routinely treats people poorly for no reason at all. Even if ignoring them altogether feels easier, there is much to learn from these individuals (namely, how NOT to be). Take some time to identify what he or she (or they!) did wrong and make a mental list of “Things I Won’t Repeat.” Remind yourself of this list, especially as you expand your own responsibilities and have more people working on your team as well as under your supervision.

At some point, of course, you may just get to be someone’s mentor; let’s hope you are not serving as “The Person You Never Want to Be” kind but, regardless, remember those individuals who helped shape and grow your career so you can then serve as an effective sounding board for the next generation. Remember, it’s YOUR Career: ReFresh. Revive. Renew!

Emily Kapit, MS, CPRW, ACRW

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