I recently landed my dream job as a writer on an Emmy nominated television show. While it might look like overnight success from the outside, the reality was years of hard work and paying my dues. But the single most important factor in finally landing this job was the relationships – namely, the mentorships – I cultivated along the way.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have multiple, outstanding mentors over the course of my career. Through their guidance, I was able to land new jobs, have new experiences, sell a script, and eventually, land the job I have now.
What is the benefit of a mentor?
My mentors have all been high-level executives working in my industry of choice. Their guidance has been invaluable because it afforded me the opportunity to see my chosen industry from the perspective of someone who has achieved success within it. Working with my mentors gave me the chance to learn from their insights: what’s worked for them and what hasn’t, what they appreciate in others, and things to avoid entirely. I was able to see aspects of the industry from some of the highest levels – a perspective that might not have otherwise been available to me for years to come. And of course, their endorsements of me accelerated my career exponentially.
So, how do you get a mentor?
You guys – if you want a mentor, be someone worth teaching. Mentoring is a sacrifice – investing in another person takes time and energy. It’s up to you to prove that you’re worthy of that time and energy and that the investment will pay off in dividends. If you want to be someone worth teaching, consider the three i’s of an outstanding mentee.
First and foremost is your enthusiasm for the field/job. When I’m mentoring someone, I want to know that they are ravenous for whatever intel I can provide. If your industry is a puzzle, then your first job is to gather the pieces – in this case, information. Asking question, taking notes, and sharing observations are all indicators that you’re doing your part to collect the pieces of the puzzle.
I genuinely wanted to know the thought processes behind certain decisions my mentors made. In the right moment, I’d find time to ask. I was hyper aware that, if I was respectful and considerate of their time, asking questions of my mentors would give me a peek into executive-level thought processes while establishing myself as a curious and passionate worker. I wanted them to know that I wanted to learn. When I mentor others, I want to see that same desire in them to continue to add puzzle pieces to their arsenal.
Note from Nat: Super important to be respectful during the information collection process. Pick and choose your moments to ask questions. Curiosity – not criticism. Take notes when you can. Show your mentor that you understand that their time and insights are valued and appreciated.
initiative and independent thought
So now you have information – what are you going to do with it? Start to put the puzzle together on your own. If you see a connection between two pieces, don’t wait to be told to link them. For instance, if you know that a meeting with one department will always result in a follow-up meeting with another department, don’t wait to be told to set the follow-up – offer to get ahead of the game.
Don’t go rogue on your mentor – initiative without communication might be seen as overstepping. Share your observation: “I noticed that a meeting with X always results in a follow-up with Y. Are you comfortable if I go ahead and preemptively set the meeting with Y?”
You might be told to wait, or you might be given the go ahead. Either way, you’re showing a higher level of thought. You’re taking what you’re learning (the puzzle pieces), and putting them together – an early sign that their investment is proving worthwhile.
Note from Nat: Communication is vital here. I so appreciate people who want to take initiative, but I want to make sure that whatever action is being taken is the best use of my time and theirs. It’s important that you communicate and ask permission along the way. Respecting existing processes is key while finding your footing.
You know the people who have extremely specific and efficient puzzle-completing techniques? There are the ones who assemble the entire border first. Or the ones who sort by color. Or the ones who find all of the main image pieces first. Either way. – they implement systems to make the puzzle process a bit easier and more efficient. It’s time to take the pieces of the puzzle and do just that.
Not asking you to fix something that isn’t broken, but if you see an opportunity to implement a new system or process that might improve upon the old one, take initiative and make suggestions. I want to know that the people in whom I’m investing are reinvesting their knowledge in the work. Everyone wants to work with problem solvers: be a problem solver. Think outside the box. Uncover new ideas.
Note from Nat: the innovation step should be implemented once a certain level of trust has been established. No one appreciates a stranger poking holes in their system. Focus your energy on the first two steps while constantly scanning for points of pains and areas to which you feel you might be able to lend your expertise.
Sheryl Sandberg has a great chapter about mentors in Lean In. I highly recommend for anyone who has yet to read. How have mentors impacted your career? I’d love to hear in the comments!