When I first started job searching, I grabbed coffee with my first boss: a smart, sophisticated woman who is a great mentor in my life. As a college student, I was inspired by how she had travelled the world, making a career out of doing what she loved. She sat across from me and promised, “The world is open to you. You can do whatever you want. I almost wish I was back where you are now.” Her words helped me see my opportunities and I left feeling energized.
Three weeks later, after I had gotten to the final round interview at a dream company and then was passed over, I needed different advice. I met with a woman two years older than me. She gave me an insider perspective of the industry, commiserating on the stresses of job-searching and telling me that people with double the amount of degrees were being rejected from that company at earlier stages in the interview process.
Both were necessary pieces of advice and reinforced the need for different types of mentors to give different perspectives and guidance. All too often, I hear people bragging about how important their mentors are. That mentality is doing a huge disservice to the other, equally necessary types of mentors.
The Senior Professional Mentor
When people think of mentor, often they think of the senior professional mentor, the successful VP with over 20 years of career experience. The Senior Professional mentor is a fantastically helpful mentor and can give you a much-needed long-term perspective on your career. She can discuss pivot points in professional development and has seen a hundred people go through the point you are at now. She can also connect you to resources and information in a way that more junior mentors may not be able to do. She’s a popular type of mentor, but comes with some downsides. Industries change, and people’s memories do too. She may not know how day-to-day operations work in your company or industry, especially in fast-moving industries.
The Peer Mentor
Peer mentors, sadly, get overlooked and underappreciated too frequently. The Peer mentor is someone who is close to your age and only a step or two above you, if at all, in the workplace. A less prestigious mentor-type, the peer mentor knows the lay of the land and is with you in the trenches at your company or in your industry. She can help you build your network with others who are around your experience level. She is great at sharing your struggles and celebrating your accomplishments. Her advice is often the most helpful day-to-day advice you will find. The latest tech tools she discovered last month can help you this month, and she’ll remember how terrible the office party was last year and warn you.
The Exception: the Supervisor Mentor
“I spend more time with you than I do with my husband,” my boss once said to me.Scary, but true, which makes the type of supervisor you have even more important. Supervisors can be tremendous mentors. As a coach, a supervisor gets to see you in action first hand. He or she has the chance to know your best talents and fundamental flaws in the workplace. Not everyone has a boss focused on mentorship, but those who do have a valuable opportunity for real-time feedback and growth. Colleagues too can share important information about the office or industry. But if you do find a boss or coworkers who offer helpful advice: caution. Beware the potential conflict of interest. To give honest advice, a mentor has to put your interests in front of the company’s. For example, good supervisor/mentors should promote their best talent, although that may not be best for them in the short term. Not everyone does.
Ultimately, each mentor type is important for your professional development. If you have Senior Professional mentors, keep in mind which questions they can reasonably answer and which answers might have changed since they were where you are. Keep an eye out for potential peer mentors to ask the everyday questions to. Any if you’re thinking about moving companies, get an opinion from someone other than your boss, even if she is a mentor to you. Know the strengths and weaknesses of each mentor-type to fully benefit from their advice. Do you have all three types of mentors? Are you struggling to find a certain type of mentor? Let me know in the comments!