Scan the headlines of most career websites giving advice to women, and you’re likely to walk away with the idea that getting a mentor is a must-have for upward mobility. Female networking groups aimed at filling the mentorship gap have popped up across the country in recent years. Still, finding someone who is actually willing and able to help you make strategic career moves is like finding a needle in a haystack, so says Denise Hamilton, founder of WatchHerWork.com, a web portal featuring career strategies, insights, and wisdom shared among women nationwide.
Here, Hamilton gives insights on five areas where ideas about mentorship are failing women.
You think getting a mentor is only up to you. There’s this belief that getting a mentor is up to you, but that’s not always the case. You don’t always have control over getting a mentor. You can ask, but you can’t compel anybody to mentor you, so it ends up being the person you’re able to convince to step in and assist you with your career. Not everyone has social skills or a critical mass of appropriate mentors in their space to make this happen. There’s this feeling that it doesn’t matter how hard you’re working – if you don’t have a mentor, there’s something wrong with you. But you can have a successful career without a mentor.
You treat the mentorship like a friendship. Getting together just to shoot the breeze does not a mentorship make. If I take an hour and a half to meet you for lunch and all we talk about are the kids… those relationships tend to fizzle because they’re not adding value or providing a return on investment on either side. Women really compromise themselves by treating a mentor relationship like a friendship. It is not the same relationship. It needs to be productive.
You don’t have a plan. You should be organized and have some sense of what you want from the relationship. If you’re asking some to advise you, have some well-thought-out questions. Don’t ask questions you could have gotten the answers to from the Internet; that says you weren’t prepared for the meeting, and you’re not maximizing the relationship. Figure out what you need from a mentor, present a career plan to that person and have the mentor validate that plan.
You only have only one mentor. Professions are changing so quickly that the odds of one mentor having all the skills you need to be successful are getting smaller. Now, not only do you need to find a mentor, you need to find multiple mentors who have expertise in different areas in order to have a comprehensive approach to help you develop your career.
You don’t have a “quality” mentor. There’s a mentor and then there’s a quality mentor who really has information about how to succeed. The fact that someone is accomplished doesn’t necessarily qualify them to mentor you. As you progress in your career, it gets harder to find a mentor who can give you the time and insight you need. Cultivate your mentorship relationships as best you can, but also, work on establishing great peer relationships. Just remember to validate any information you get from any source.
Denise Hamilton is the founder of WatchHerWork.com and the author of the book When Sleeping Women Wake: Moving Mountains in Life and Work (Summer 2016)