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Watch: How to find mentorship anywhere

  • Heather Landy
By Heather Landy

Executive editor of Quartz

Published

Perhaps you’ve lucked into finding a boss, an experienced colleague, or a luminary in your industry who meets all of your mentorship needs. More likely, you’re searching for wise counsel to help you take your work and your career to the next level.

In our March 31 workshop on how to find mentorship anywhere, part of our Quartz at Work (from anywhere) workshop series, our panel of experts offered some mentoring of their own, sharing how they found, orchestrated, and opened themselves to guidance from others.

Click the large image above for the complete replay, or read on for the top takeaways from our panelists at the event, which was sponsored by Accenture:

  • Sean Cain, director of career & performance for Disney General Entertainment Content
  • Paulina Karpis, co-founder of brunchwork, a business education startup with a strong networking component
  • Chloe Barzey, senior managing director, global account leader, and Atlanta office managing director for Accenture
  • Richard Wilson II, a technical program manager at Meta who recently completed a summer fellowship with The Takeoff Institute, which offers mentorship to Black students across the US

Figure out the kind of mentor you need

One audience member noted that she’s mulling a career pivot but isn’t sure what to pivot to—and is unsure how to approach a potential mentor when her own goals are so unclear. Disney’s Sean Cain assures her she’s not alone. “Most people—and I’ve worked with over 1,300 people in one-to-one coaching—have no idea what they want to do next,” he says.

When seeking mentorship, there are typically four ways to categorize what you’re looking for, Cain says. Before you do anything else, figure out which bucket you fall into so that you can gain clarity on what you’re looking for. Is the mentorship you seek about:

  1. Your existing role? If you like where you are and you want to ensure that your skills are as sharp as possible, you already may have a good idea about who to consult for mentorship.
  2. A horizontal move? Perhaps you like what you do but want to do it with a different team or in a different work environment. In that case, find likeminded colleagues or peers who can talk to you about making the leap.
  3. A vertical move? Maybe you already know the path you want to follow, and maybe there are barriers to it (the role you want next isn’t open or doesn’t exist yet, or your would-be boss can’t get that headcount approved). “What else can you do along that vertical path?” Cain says. Perhaps you can take on new kinds of assignments that will prepare you for the next role.
  4. Strictly exploratory? There’s no need to be embarrassed about not knowing what you want to do next. A good mentor can be a valuable sounding board to help you figure out that very thing.

No matter which category you’re in, Cain says, “it all hinges on ‘Who do I talk to next to learn what I don’t know?’”

Read more in Quartz at Work: Mary Barra’s unexpected advice to people who want a deeply influential mentor

Cold emails really can work

If you’re early in your career and short on connections, like Paulina Karpis was when she started developing her idea for brunchwork, access to mentorship can be admittedly difficult. “Not knowing anyone, the best path available to me was, truly, cold emails,” Karpis says. The intrepidness landed her several speakers and instructors for the brunchwork curriculum, as well as mentors to guide her through the experience of building a business.

She offers two tips to others who might be thinking about reaching out electronically to people they don’t already know.

Tip 1: Write short. (This also applies when reaching out to relatively new or even established connections.) “Keep editing it until you think it’s the most concise version of that email,” Karpis says.

Tip 2: Provide “social proof.” Where you work, where you went to school, previous business results, other people you’ve connected with—all of these are examples of social proof that can make the difference as to whether you get a reply or not. “Whatever social proof you have to make it more likely that a potential mentor will take the meeting with you, drop it in,” Karpis says.

Read more in Quartz: How to improve your writing

Understand the difference between a coach, a mentor, and a sponsor

“They all contribute something different,” says Accenture’s Chloe Barzey.

“A mentor is someone that advises you; you can talk to them about anything, related to work or outside of work. I have mentors across the board for things I want to learn—if I want to learn how to play golf, if I want to get to know different aspects of my job. I have mentors to teach me about the metaverse.”

Whereas mentors could come from inside or outside your organization, sponsors have influence in the place where you work (or wish to work). They are familiar with your work and will act on your behalf. Or as Barzey puts it, “Where a mentor might push you up, a sponsor will pull you up. A mentor may help you network, a sponsor will include you in their network.”

Coaches, meanwhile, are typically paid and mainly work on either preparing you (for that big meeting or that difficult conversation, for example) or helping you critique your performance after the fact, so you can better understand how you did and what you might do differently next time.

Incidentally, a boss can be both a mentor and a sponsor, Barzey says, “but typically you don’t want to put your career in one person’s hands.”

Read more in Quartz at Work: If your CEO has a coach, maybe you deserve one too

You’ll get more out of mentorship if you make yourself coachable

Richard Wilson II says the mentorship he found as a student changed the trajectory of the engineering career he’d been planning—but only because he was open to the switch.

“One of my earlier mentors talked about how important it is to be able to learn when you are—and when you’re not—correct, or when you are—or aren’t—making the best decisions. Having that sort of insight is super important because it allows you to reflect…on how you can pivot your thought process or decision making to be even better,” Wilson says.

Read more in Quartz at Work: The best thing you can do for your career is learn to be more coachable

Miscellaneous tips on mentorship

Look beyond your mentor’s current role. “A mentor can talk to you about what they do day to day, but a mentor can also talk about what they’ve done” in previous roles or sectors, says Wilson.

Keep the connection alive. Once you’ve established a relationship, nurture it in small, authentic ways, whether asking the mentor what’s new in their world or why they chose to make a certain decision, or letting them know about a new project you’ve started. That way, Wilson says, “by the time that you are then asking for something from your mentor, it’s not that you’re coming from all the way out in left field.”

Don’t overthink your contribution to the mentor. It may be that all you have to offer is the insight of a young customer or junior employee. That’s fine! “Mentors have reached a level in their careers where they’re not in the weeds, they’re not in the details as much. Oftentimes it’s the mentee who sees trends, who sees innovation, who sees opportunities way ahead of the mentor,” says Karpis. And remember: “Just because you’re early in your career doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable relationships to contribute, and even if you don’t have them now, you’ll have them in three to five years.”

Consider a larger gathering if seeking advice from an industry luminary. “A one-to-many form of mentorship is a much easier ask when schedules are busy,” says Karpis. “There are only so many mentees that a mentor can take on.”

Don’t let a remote or hybrid environment stop your search for mentorship. “You have to just be more intentional,” says Barzey. Besides, during Zoom meetings, “you can chat with people on the side, and you can get to know people you would have never known because you wouldn’t have met them face to face.”

Go slowly. Rather than immediately going to a potential mentor with a big ask for their time or help, “build that relationship,” says Cain. “Let them believe in you, make them want to help you, and by the time the mentorship period has ended, you have an advocate.”

Get comfortable with “no.” If you send out 10 emails asking for people’s time, you might not even hear back from the first nine. “Don’t be discouraged,” Cain says. “It’s a numbers game. You’re closer to that yes.”

Read more in Quartz: How to find meaningful mentorship without asking anyone to mentor you

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