The quest to find that perfect mentor can be exhausting and hard but it is essential. According to a recent survey by Marie Claire, 66% of women said that mentoring and networking events are important for furthering their career, however 72% have never actually been mentored. But just being mentor on paper who takes their mentee out for lunch once in a while and listens while they bitch about problems at work is not what women need to advance in their careers. A new study from Catalyst finds that women in middle management need highly placed sponsors in order to vault into the elite “C-Suite” of CEOs, CFOs, and other upper-level titles. Sponsors are actually what mentors should aspire to be. Sponsors are mentors on crack. Mentors advise and support, but a sponsor goes beyond that to help you get ahead. Senior Catalyst Director Heather Foust-Cummings says, “They make sure that you get the visibility that you need. They really have their skin in the game and are willing to ride their reputation with yours.” Catalyst found that 77% of women believe that hard work, rather than connections, is the key to advancement.
But how do you find that great mentor or sponsor? Amy Levin-Epstein of CBS MoneyWatch has a few ideas. She emphasizes that the key is finding a good fit. She wrote, “Mentors are to careers like psychotherapists are to your emotional health. They can use their perspective and experience to take you from where you are to where you want to be. They can give you new tools, while bolstering your existing efforts.” Here are her tips:
- Know What You Are Looking For: Just because a person may be older and wiser doesn’t mean they can give you what you need. Dr.Priya Nalkur-Pai, professional coach who works with women on their career transitions and overall life satisfaction, said “You should ask yourself what you need from a mentor, why you need or want one, and what you might be able to contribute to your mentor as part of the relationship. For example, how often will you call or meet with her? How will this relationship be different from a normal friendship, if at all? What does she need to know about you to be a good mentor to you? How much about her do you want or need to know? Mentoring is about a structured relationship. If you think you might have found someone who could be a good mentor for you, ask her explicitly if she will be your mentor. This crisply defines the relationship, which sets it up for success.”
- Look for Someone with Perspective: Levin-Epstein says a mentor’s career path doesn’t need to be an exact template for your own. In fact, you might find real value in learning from someone with a slightly different background. Attorney Andrea Harvey said she found male mentors to be the most helpful. “They broke down the law to me in ways I would never have understood. Some people are just helpful and others are not. It does not matter if they share a gender or even a race with you.
- Don’t Choose Your Boss: You might learn from both a mentor and a boss, but that’s where the similarity ends. “You want to be able to pick apart your failures with your mentor,” says Margaret Morford, a management consultant and former human resources executive. Laying your failures on the table for your boss to dissect is a form of career suicide.
- Consider the Connections: You may want to choose someone who is very well-connected in your field, but that doesn’t mean they have to be an industry celebrity, who probably won’t get back to you anyway. Sara Schoonover, Vice President of TicketKick, a legal service helping people fight traffic tickets, said “I think women in business should search out mentors whom they trust, respect, and who have no reason for bad motives. I personally think that men make good mentors because they are less likely to be emotional, defensive, or jealous, and since men still do dominate many industries, they might be able to open up new opportunities through connections or hiring power.”