Part of any professional career path involves strategy and planning. In today’s competitive marketplace, having the right educational credentials and personal references may not always be enough to start opening doors and opportunities. In fact, many professionals can find themselves stagnating within their industry, despite having worked hard, and after gaining ample experience.
You know that you have hit the invisible ceiling within your profession, when you start to look elsewhere, and find few takers. Or when interview requests are less frequent than you would like. So how do you break through the obstacle, and make the connections you need to advance in your career? You find a mentor.
Peer Mentors and Networking
Many professionals think that networking involves only approaching people who are captains of industry, or those executives who are at the C-Level or higher. The truth is that approaching people in your organization may pose some accessibility problems. The busier they are, the less likely they are to be able to offer free coaching, or career advice. But a mentor is something more than just getting five minutes of someone’s time and executive insights; it’s about creating a relationship that is mutually beneficial, and one that builds your reputation within the industry.
Start by reviewing your connections in LinkedIn. Look for peers you went to school with, in the same discipline in college and university. Using LinkedIn to send a message is an effective, and appropriate way to approach peers to reconnect. If they are committed to furthering their own careers and exploring mutually beneficial networking opportunities, they will be happy to migrate to email or a telephone call, or meet for a coffee. And when you do meet, be prepared to ask questions about their career trajectory, what is working well for them, and ask for advice. Not only will you gain valuable insights, but you will also expand word-of-mouth opportunities; when your peer mentor hears of a role suitable for your needs, they may contact you and even refer you personally.
Approaching Executive Mentors
What would you do for the opportunity to get advice from industry leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, or Richard Branson? While those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are difficult to acquire, many executives are approachable and amenable to being asked for career advice; particularly if you know how to ask.
Never strike up a conversation with an executive mentor, or make that “ask” by text or email if you have no established connection with them. Take a classical approach, and send a blank card or letter that explains why you are passionate about your industry, and why you respect the value of their insight to help you further your career. You can approach executives within your own organization, or seek advice from other leadership. Follow up your written letter with an email about two weeks later, and you may find the approach works well, if the executive is open to mentoring (which many are).
What do you ask a senior executive when you do have some of their time? Ask them to share their story, and how they advanced to their role. Ask them also about leadership attributes, associations and volunteer opportunities that allow you to expand your professional network. Non-profit volunteering is an excellent segue into closed circles, and can open up a world of new career opportunities.
Be a Mentor
The time you have spent investing in your career, and the accomplishments that you have achieved are of value and admired by your junior associates. Let people know that you openly encourage the professional development of your colleagues (regardless of their experience level) and consider offering your time as a mentor. Not only will you be supporting the growth and leadership skills of someone within your organization, you will earn both respect and acknowledgment from senior managers, and help you build a persona that makes you a prime candidate for advancement.