I have a mentor. What’s interesting about my mentor, is that she doesn’t know she is. You read that correctly: I haven’t told my mentor that I’ve chosen her as someone to look up to in my career choices and aspirations. But, it’s my opinion that you don’t necessarily need to walk up to someone and ask, “Will you be my mentor?” Instead, there’s nothing wrong with observing, asking questions, and following in their career footsteps as under-the-radar as you’d like. While there can be some insistent arguments around the opposite, I haven’t yet felt compelled to bring my mentor choice out into the open. Still, I do want to share some of her wisdom and how it continues to guide me, as it can be taken to heart no matter the industry or career level you currently occupy.
I found this advice to be true in two parts. The first part is to get involved in volunteering outside of work. The second part is to insert yourself into legitimate work projects. Getting involved in your community or your industry is easier than you may think. The hardest part is showing up. Volunteering is not only good for your professional life, but also good for the soul. No matter where you choose to volunteer, you will be able to meet new people, gain invaluable skills, and put to good use those abilities that you’re unable to display on a daily basis. You can do this all while lending your time and heart to your community and those in need. On the other side, offering to take on a project at work is a great way to collaborate with individuals you may not otherwise get the chance to work with, as well as allow you to gain a new accomplishment for that resume! If you happen to miss your chance on a project, make it known that you’re available for the next one.
ALWAYS WANT MORE
When I first met my mentor, over coffee, she asked about my role and what my career objectives were. My answers were vague and I admit that I probably sounded a bit lost. She asked questions like, “what do you like about your job?” and “what do you wish you could do that your role currently doesn’t allow?” And toward the end of our conversation, she eluted to something that had legitimately never crossed my mind: I can make my role in this company what I want it to be. I could take things I like, things I didn’t like, and things I see as valuable for the company, to form something that I truly want. Now, this may not necessarily be a viable option at every organization, but why not try? If you can make a good case for reasons that this position you’ve concocted is needed, management just may agree. Basically, what I’m advising against is just settling – always make sure you strive for greater.
MAKE A NAME FOR YOURSELF
Executing your daily tasks and nothing more, simply will not get you noticed. Genuinely get to know people in your workplace, collaborate as much as possible, and offer to assist other teams as time allows. If your aim is to be recognized, sitting behind a computer screen and purely doing your job well won’t get you there. See above “GET INVOLVED” section for one way to gain recognition. Make an effort to be someone that people think of when they’re searching for an advocate within your department. Once you’ve proven your worthiness and showed off your skills, you’ll be someone they spread the word about.
NETWORK, LIKE A LOT
Ok, so networking and volunteering outside of work may be one in the same in some aspects. But what is sometimes forgotten is that you need to do the follow-up. Meeting other professionals and having great conversation at an event is a start, but keeping in contact with those industry leaders and people like yourself, is a must. Take a business card, leave a business card, add them on LinkedIn - with a personal note, of course - and make a plan to meet up again. Networking can open so many doors and lead to amazing opportunities, so try to do it as much as possible. It’s not going to be a one-and-done!
One reason why having a mentor is so great, is the fact that they push you to be a better worker, and maybe even a better person, than you may otherwise be motivated to be on your own. You’re able to witness a preponderance of possibilities when you evaluate how they’ve grown in their career and what it took them to get there. Get yourself one, I promise you won’t regret it!