Blog/Podcast: How to Make Mentorship Part of Your Career

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Having someone mentor you in your career is incredibly beneficial—and being that source of support can be hugely rewarding, too. Clare Ota, Senior Marketing and Business Development Manager at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, has been both a mentor and a mentee, and she credits both roles with leading to her current position. She joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to talk about the importance of mentorship, in addition to her career path as a legal marketer and her predictions for the future of the industry.

Look for Out-of-the-Box Mentors

There’s no doubt that mentorship has huge benefits for professionals at the beginning of their careers (and really, at any point in their careers). But the traditional mentorship model, where someone in your field offers support and guidance over many years, isn’t the only form it can take.

Sometimes, you may want a mentor only for a specific role or step along your career path. For example, if you’re interested in developing your sales skills, you may want to seek out someone who can mentor you in that particular area for a few months. Once your goals have been met, the relationship can transition into a friendship or professional relationship. Mentorship doesn’t need to be life-long for it to be meaningful.

In other cases, you need more than a mentor—you need someone who is willing to put their reputation on the line and provide opportunities for you. Clare calls them sponsors, and they can take a variety of forms. It could be a supervisor who offers you the chance to expand your role, or a colleague who will vouch for you at their organization. Either way, sponsorship goes beyond mentorship and it can be crucial during transition points in your career.

Finally, don’t assume that your mentor has to be in the same firm or even the same field as you. Often, having a mentor outside your office is more organic and comfortable, and you can learn just as much from people in different roles across your industry (and outside of it).

Find a Mentor Organically

There’s nothing more straightforward than asking someone, “Will you be my mentor?” A direct ask can work and it certainly gets your point across; however, it may put some people on the spot. For a more natural transition into mentorship, try asking your target mentor about a topic you know they’re passionate about. Find out their interests from their LinkedIn profile or an interview they’ve done, and use that to start a dialogue. Maybe it will resonate and maybe it won’t, but you’ll be able to see where it leads in a more organic way.

No matter how you initiate the relationship, you have to follow up and communicate openly for it to stick. Nothing will ruin a new relationship faster than letting the conversation fizzle out. It’s not your mentor’s responsibility to keep the relationship going, so you have to put in the work to make it happen.

Use Networking to Identify Mentors

Finding a mentor isn’t much different from any other business development activity. Networking, both inside and outside your firm, is the best way to identify potential mentors. Participate in the industry and, eventually, you’ll find like-minded champions who will support you.

One of the best ways to make professional connections is through alumni networks and industry groups. However, it’s not enough to pay dues and scan a few e-newsletters. To maximize your efforts, get involved by joining a subcommittee and displaying your skills and work ethic. It’s important to maintain a consistent level of involvement as well. Being very responsive for the first three to four months is great, but being absent for the following six months doesn’t bode well for building connections.

At industry events, ask if you can see the list of attendees ahead of time so you can identify the people you know or want to meet. If you don’t have the attendee list, check the table with name tags when you arrive—you can always note names and follow up via email if you aren’t able to meet in person. It takes some extra effort, but it’s well worth it if it helps you develop a genuine relationship.

Mentorship Has Benefits for Mentors, Too

Becoming a mentor has just as many positives for you as it does for the mentee. In addition to the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping someone, connecting with a young professional can help you keep your finger on the pulse of the industry. You’ll learn as much from them as they will from you.

If you’d like to incorporate mentorship into your career, the most important thing to look for in a mentee is a genuine connection—the relationship has to be authentic for it to last. Look also for people who are engaged in their careers and want to develop their skills further. The best place to find these people? Professional organizations. Groups such as Legal Marketing Association offer a wealth of opportunity to find a mutually beneficial relationship.

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