When it comes to advancing our careers, one of the most powerful assets we can have is a mentor. Mentors can offer insight about navigating the culture of a work place, support for career planning, and can even facilitate a connection to finding another job.
However, I’ve noticed that finding a mentor is more challenging now than when I was just starting out in my career. Then, I felt that I could identify people whose careers I admired—whether they were my professors at college or staff members at organizations I was volunteering and interning for—and develop a relationship where they provided ongoing guidance and gave me ideas about how I could begin to build my work experience.
Today, many of the women I sought out as mentors in my early and mid-twenties, I now consider my colleagues. And, because the mentor/mentee relationship changes as our careers develop, I’ve noticed that I don’t need the same kind of hands-on mentoring I did before. I can leverage the network I have built, and the experiences and responsibilities I have earned, to help me make decisions and plan my next steps. Additionally, many of the people several steps ahead of me in their careers do not have the time for extensive mentoring. So, while I’d like guidance, I’d also enjoy conversations around changes in the field and new people and opportunities I should be aware of.
In exploring the kind of mentorship I need and people I would like to connect with, I’ve dug into a few interesting ways to find a mentor. Here are five ideas to think about:
Thanks to social networking, it’s much easier to find people in your field and beyond. If you have a sense of who you would like to connect with, consider asking for an informational interview and phone call/Skype check-ins every few months. If you are looking to expand your network and learn about new people and don’t need something formal, start by exploring blogs in interesting topics. Follow the authors on social media and engage with them by asking questions and sharing useful information.
Mentoring opportunities at professional organizations
If a formal mentoring program offers you the structure that you need, many professional organizations offer mentoring programs and opportunities, such as those for fundraisers or museum educators. Here is a list of professional associations to help you get started.
Your university career office or alumni association
Check in with your alumni association and see if they hold networking events or facilitate connections with mentors. Connecting with someone who went to the same school as you is great; you already have an important experience in common, even if you attended decades apart. For example, I really enjoyed the “Mentor for a Morning” program I attended at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. I got to sit down for 20 minutes with three arts and cultural executives and discuss my career goals. It was kind of like speed dating for mentors!
Identify a mentor across sectors
Is there someone you admire because of the career choices they have made, even if they don’t work in your field or sector? Career decisions and advice can be transferable across sectors and disciplines. If you are already connected to this person, schedule a meeting with them and discuss why you feel inspired by their work.
Set up your own peer mentoring program
Are there smart, motivated colleagues that you look up to? As opposed to mentoring up, consider mentoring across. Get together with a small, defined group of people on a regular basis, such as once a week, to discuss navigating your organization’s culture, your career goals, and new projects. Sometimes you don’t know the experience and insight of the people around you until you ask.
Do you have a mentor?
Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is also a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.