Why you need at least one career mentor

January 8, 2015

You’ve probably heard that mentors are instrumental for your professional growth.

But what does that really mean? Let’s take a moment to explore the definition of mentorship.

What is a career mentor?

A mentor is usually a more experienced person who shares professional knowledge and career experiences with you, the less experienced person, or mentee. As a mentee, you gain valuable insight and advice from your mentor that can guide you along your career path. A mentor will support and encourage you as you develop and work on your professional skills and career goals.

It is important to recognize, however, that mentors are only one half of a mentoring relationship that’s focused on your professional development. As a mentee, you fill in the other half of that relationship with a genuine willingness to ask questions, listen, and follow up to keep the connection moving forward over a period of time.

How many mentors do you need?

Many career experts recommend having more than one mentor. For example, Glassdoor recommends you find a mentor to fit the specific skills you want to work on. If you want to work on giving presentations­, ask a coworker who wows you in a meeting to share some tips and tricks. You could also set up a weekly coffee chat with a coworker who is cool under pressure.

According to Forbes, you should have a trio of mentors for best results. They recommend having one mentor for each of the following three scenarios:

  • Mentor #1: you in one year. Find someone who works for the same company as you do, in a similar position as yours, but with one additional year’s worth of experience. The daily challenges and opportunities you’re about to face will be fresh in this mentor’s mind. Make a regular coffee date with him or her to get advice and insight as you need it.
  • Mentor #2: your five-year guide. Look for a team leader or manager in your company. This person will have the inside scoop on how to best advance your career. Just be respectful of his or her time. Meet up quarterly to establish and review your personal career development plan.
  • Mentor #3: your career planner. This mentor doesn’t have to be someone who works for your same employer, but he or she should be an experienced professional in your industry. Use this contact as a guide for your career overall. Ask for help with the bigger career ambitions that go beyond your current position or employer, like exploring new job opportunities or selecting the best professional conferences to attend.

Why get a career mentor?

A mentor can help you with a variety of career development moves, including:

  • Setting and achieving career goals.
  • Improving communication skills.
  • Seeing things from another perspective.
  • Learning how to manage a project from start to finish.
  • Developing leadership skills, including how to manage people.
  • Building your professional network.
  • Overcoming challenges with projects or people.
  • Providing feedback and encouraging your new ventures and goals.

And those are just a few of the benefits you’ll gain by having a mentor. If done correctly, a mentorship can be a truly priceless relationship.

This is the first post in a four-part series on mentorship in celebration of National Mentoring Month. Related posts:

The Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.


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