March 10, 2010
Why a handful of mentors is better than one
The other day a colleague I'd helped out with some advice on freelancing called me her "unofficial mentor," much to my (flattered) surprise. This got me thinking about the nature of twenty-first century mentorship.
To me, the idea of the grizzled older professional bestowing all their hard-won wisdom upon a junior colleague week in and week out seems so very twentieth century. Outside academic settings and rigidly structured corporate or volunteer mentorship programs, it's unusual to find one person who has the time, energy, and inclination to take you under their wing and dole out hour after hour of career advice. (That is, unless you're paying them for such coaching services.) Besides being busy, they're likely too worried about keeping their own job to spend concentrated amounts of time grooming you.
Bestselling author Susan RoAne, who wrote the classic networking book "How to Work a Room," suggests nurturing "mini mentors" or "mentors of the moment" who can advise you on specific aspects of your career (the friend you turn to for resume advice, the co-worker you tap for blogging advice, and so on). And Marci Alboher, author of "One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success," likens the cadre of mentors she keeps to a team of trusted advisors, many of whom are the same age as her if not younger.
I wholeheartedly agree with them both. In today's highly competitive, overly frantic work world, cultivating a handful of mentors seems much more realistic.
Career author Alexandra Levit, whose latest book is "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career," champions seeking out mini mentors who are just five years your senior, as they'll have more relevant insight into the immediate opportunities and challenges you can expect in your field. I agree with her too. All too often, I hear about people who've been in academia or the C-suite several decades tell people 20 or 30 years their junior that the only way to get ahead in their industry is to go to graduate school (even though no graduate degree is necessary in that field) or some other wildly outmoded idea.
The good news is that the Web makes finding helpful mini, momentary, or unofficial mentors a cinch. A mentor may be a peer you swap tips and commiseration with after shooting the breeze on Twitter or a blogger whose advice resonates with you, regardless of whether you interact with them beyond the comments section of their site.
Freelancedom blogger Steph Auteri offers some additional suggestions for where to find your next mentor, including on your bookshelf, at an informational interview, and in the classroom. To that list I'll add through your friendly neighborhood professional association, many of which are rife with low-cost educational events, panels, and happy hours.
How about you -- what has been your experience with mentorship? Have you enjoyed a relationship with one all-knowing advisor over the years? Or do you draw inspiration and knowledge from a group of savvy professional in your field?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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