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Mentoring: An Essential Element to Career Success

It was the worst of times–I was jobless, broke, and in despair. Then I met a woman who told me to own my skills and know my worth, in that order. She is now one of my amazing mentors, and an inspiration for my organization, The Fairy Godsister, Inc.

Mentorship is significant to career success and personal advancement. Mentoring is a relationship between two individuals, in which a more experienced person imparts insight, wisdom, and guidance that can be leveraged to help a less experienced person progress in their professional, personal, or academic development.

In my career, I have had an opportunity to meet wonderful women who have empowered me to accomplish great things. As such, I have always enjoyed networking as a fantastic way to expand the cache of individuals in my rolodex. But simply increasing your number of acquaintances is not enough. Often times, the relationships that are built through networking opportunities are seldom maintained beyond a few follow-up emails, resulting in a wasted resource. You need to build relationships, and identify advocates who can become mentors.

But, I also know that finding the right mentor is not always easy. In fact, studies indicate that historically, women have reported greater challenge in finding mentors than men.

This has led to the development of a number of networks and programs who aim to connect women with female mentors. The Mentoring Women’s Network, and The Fairy Godsister are two such groups.

Below are three ways to find the right mentor for you:

1. Join a Network – There are networks whose primary purpose is to help match you with a mentor that is the right fit for your goals and ambitions. Do some research, and identify a few that are of interest to you. Then, reach out!

Tip #1: Before you begin your search, define a few goals that you would like a mentor to help you accomplish. This exercise will enable you to quickly filter out organizations that do not provide mentors that speak to your needs.

2. Affinity networks – If you already work at a company, find out if there is an affinity network for women. If so, join one or five, and engage with the members in the network. Find someone who is more senior than you, whose position you may one day like to have, and ask that individual out for coffee to discuss their experiences. This is an organic approach to developing an advocacy relationship with someone at your workplace.

3. Leverage your network – The good thing about networking is meeting people; the bad thing is not following up. To avoid the pitfalls of this, make it a goal to find one potential mentor at every opportunity where you meet people. Set relationship building as a priority and find individuals from whom you can learn. I have developed relationships with individuals simply because I reached out or followed up with an email asking for a phone call or coffee after an event or upon reading their LinkedIn profiles. A coffee, two dinners, and a Facebook/LinkedIn add later, you now have a healthy relationship with someone who you will learn from and can leverage to your advantage.

Tip #2: Mentoring is a mutually beneficial relationship, so before you reach out to someone, consider how you may be able to assist them as well. In our organization, we have found that many of the mentors report great benefits from their roles–they learn things about themselves through their relationships with their mentees. So, when considering finding a mentor, be prepared to be a teacher as well as a student.

Originally written for She Leads Africa.

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