As millennials, we often see ourselves at the bottom of the “food chain” because we’re just entering the workforce and starting to develop our resumes. As a result, we’re always looking for mentors or people to look up to who can guide us in our professional journeys. But what if I told you that you can actually advance your career by mentoring others instead?
You may be thinking, “I’m just an intern, and I’m too inexperienced.” You may think you need to be well advanced in your career to guide anyone else, but you’d be surprised at the insights you have to offer. If you haven’t already, you should definitely consider peer mentoring.
“What is peer mentoring, and how does it help my career?” To get a better understanding, let’s go over the mechanics of mentorship. Mentoring is a way of imparting wisdom that will help someone else navigate their career. Mentoring involves learning from the experiences and mistakes of someone who has been there before and can provide you with insights you might not have gained on your own. As a young professional, you may feel you don’t have much to offer, but there are reasons why you are where you are today, even if it’s your first full-time job or position.
With peer mentoring, the mentor and mentee roles are less rigidly defined. That means even someone older or more experienced than you can learn from you. “In a peer-mentoring relationship, each person involved can be both teacher and student, and both parties are empowered to shape their learning context,” according to Virginia Fraser, U.S. marketing manager at Insights Learning & Development.
Fraser also said that peer mentorships develop organically from trust-based, professional workplace relationships. This trust creates an open environment where colleagues feel comfortable offering feedback to one another about behavior, attitude or performance. In short, by being a peer mentor, not only are you helping someone, you’re also learning from them and applying their insights to help you navigate your career. It’s all a win-win in the end.
You don’t need fancy credentials to be a peer mentor. You just need to strive to be a good role model who leads by example. Additionally, being a peer mentor means being honest, patient and a positive team member. Peer mentors desire to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
So how do you become a peer mentor? Fraser offers these tips:
-Form a mutual commitment to both giving and receiving feedback. It can start with a simple conversation or by saying, “Let me know if you ever need help looking over anything. I’d love to hear what tips you have as well.”
-Establish a mutual respect of each other’s expertise and experience. Let the other person know you’re interested in how he acquired his skills and offer to be a resource for him as well.
-Start a preferred way to communicate, i.e. email, texting or in-person. Be intuitive. If it’s an older mentee, maybe a more formal means of communication is better. If it’s a casual relationship with a peer, texting or social media may work just fine.
-Look for opportunities to chat as they arise, whether formal or casual. These can be great ways to mentor each other. Ask if the person wants to grab coffee or go out to lunch and use it as a reoccurring “catch up” time.
Set ground rules regarding confidentiality and any off-limits topics. Sometimes, peer mentoring can get too personal, so let the other person know they don’t have to shed their deepest darkest secrets. You can set the boundaries yourself by keeping it as professional or personal as is appropriate.
How to Be a Peer Mentor
Once you’ve established a relationship with someone to mentor and set the tone, you can take the following actions to become the best peer mentor you can be:
-Help someone achieve her potential. Get to know the person, assess her strengths and share what you see in her. This is helpful to give that person insight about herself that may have been hidden to her before. Think of what you would want someone to look for in you and point out.
-Share stories about your own professional path. Don’t be afraid to be honest, especially if it’s another intern or colleague who’s entry-level. Share some of your mistakes and failures, or something you wish someone had shared with you. Be upfront and honest so you and your mentee can learn and grow together.
-Show your mentee the ropes. Even if you’ve only interned a couple of months longer than the mentee, go out of your way to be a resource for her. Be available to chat, show her around and let her know the ins and outs of the office environment and work culture. Remember how it helped you when someone showed you the way? You should pay it forward.
Peer mentoring is not just about being a better person. If you go out of your way to advise and help others in any way you can, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn and grow in your own personal and professional journey.
This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.