The One Relationship That Will Change Your Career

Many well-respected leaders share a secret to career success: having a mentor who guided and advised them along the way. I have relied on the wisdom of a helpful circle of professionals over the years, and I have benefitted from being a mentor, as well (as my readers know, I’m a big fan of the “reverse mentor,” in particular).

One thing we don’t hear about often enough: Mentorship is a two-way street. Millennials need to be open to new advice and ideas and work hard to find mentors who can help them navigate their careers. And, more established professionals have to be willing to invest the time in this next generation, putting aside any stereotypes about Gen Y.

If you’re looking for a mentor, or you’re interested in helping a mentee, keep reading for inspiration and examples of how to make this relationship work.

Want to Be Mentored? Show You’re Worthy

“This desire for mentorship means high profile executives must be ruthless in their assessment of potential proteges. They expect hunger, ambition, and resourcefulness. Above all, they demand intelligence beyond the classroom. Devin Wicker is founder and CEO at Bonwick Capital Management, one of the largest, minority-owned investment banks in the country. A former Goldman Sachs banker who was involved in the firm’s mentorship program and now has his own program at Bonwick, Devin’s mentored 15-20 people over the course of his career. ‘When looking for mentees, there are several characteristics that I look for: strong work ethic, discipline, desire to achieve,’ he says. ‘But one thing that I also look for is how a person thinks. What I mean is, does a person think about the logical extension? It is one thing to be able to take notes, memorize and regurgitate information, but it is entirely different to take that information and generate a reasonable conclusion about its application. Th​is is especially important in the financial services world, where​ innovation ​is happening ​all the time. Mentees that I choose have to be able to demonstrate an ability to execute on those innovati​ons, take a different approach, and more importantly,​ take ​a project to​ the finish line and see ideas come to fruition.’ In other words, Wicker wants proteges that will become leaders in their own right.” – Forbes.

Shoot for These Six Essential Mentorship Ingredients

“An effective mentoring relationship requires several key ingredients, including purpose, with buy-in and commitment from both parties; communication, which is clear, bidirectional, and occurs on a consistent basis; trust, so that both parties know that everything discussed will remain confidential; process, to ensure that interactions move at an effective pace; progress, including a mutual understanding of the goals and a commitment to working toward them; and feedback., which allows both parties to engage in honest and constructive dialogue that is mutually beneficial. An effective mentoring program can offer many benefits for your organization — including fulfilling the desire that younger generations have for such relationships, as well as providing older workers who are eyeing retirement with the ability to pass on their knowledge and expertise.” – Business2Community.

Consider How Mentorship Is Changing and Becoming More Fluid

Mentorship, including female-to-female mentoring, is cited by numerous task forces and studies as a key factor to bridging the leadership gender gap. Yet a survey from the Zeno Group found that while millennial women highly value mentorship, less than 60% of them have mentors. This lack of mentorship can hold them back — 82% of women who have a mentor are more likely to believe they are on track professionally and those without mentors are less confident.” … [However], millennials also prefer more fluid and short-term mentorship relationships. As Monica Higgins, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education says, ‘The idea of seeking out a single career confidant is as old-fashioned as a three-martini lunch.’” – Forbes.

Find Strength in Numbers

“If multiple young employees have the need to develop the same skill, such as making a business case for a new product, you can band them together to teach it, or have someone else teach it. ‘A mini class on a discrete topic like that is attractive to a busy mentor because it reins in the conversation,’ says Willyerd [VP for learning and social adoption at SuccessFactors, an SAP company]. It gives the mentor a bigger bang for her buck. – Fast Company.

What have been the hallmarks of a successful mentor relationship for you? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Lindsey Pollak is the leading voice on millennials in the workplace, trusted by global companies, universities, and the world’s top media outlets — and, most importantly, by millennials themselves. A New York Times bestselling author, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her keynote speeches have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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