The Strategic Guide to Mentorships

Mentors can be absolutely critical to your success. They can help you with career insights and negotiations, share insider industry knowledge, guide you if you’re pivoting careers, support your side hustle dreams, and encourage you when times get tough. I am nine years out of college and have had many mentors in my life, playing big and small roles, and I credit them for helping accelerate my success. They have helped me navigate new jobs, negotiate promotions, brainstorm big ideas, supported my non-profit initiatives, even collaborating with me to get this HuffPost Contributor role. I owe a lot to my mentors, and I want to make sure you get the support that you deserve as well.

There are many successful men and women out there who would be more than happy to help you with career insights and advice... but ask them directly to be your mentor and they might cringe. Mentorships have evolved and the full time one-on-one mentor you may be seeking is getting harder to come by. So what’s a growing boss to do when aligning yourself with the right network is as critical as ever? Follow these guidelines to millennial mentorship success!

How to Choose A (Potential) Mentor

First off, how do you actually find and choose the actual person to invest in? How, out of all the successful people in the world, do you zero in on one or a few who will meet your needs? It all starts with you, and knowing your passion and your vision. You may already be a fan of a few potential mentors; think about who you love to follow on social media or what articles you enjoy reading. If you’re not quite sure what ignites your fire just yet, check out these steps to spark your passion. Take time to freely brainstorm and remember to keep an open mind as you explore what makes you tick. When you’re done, soak it all in and see what sticks out to you and what makes your heart race ― you are unique and your vision will be unique as well! Narrow your interests, then research who is doing what, where they are posting, what hashtags they are using, what events they’re going to, and what clicks with you personally. Make a list of these folks that pique your interest the most, follow them on social media, and start reading their content.

Consider A Frentorship

The successful people we look up to are going to be consistently busy pursuing their goals. A lot of these high achievers do make a point to send the elevator back down, and you certainly can connect with them. However, if you request their time for mentorship without any relationship base first, they may give you a flat-out “no” for fear of over-committing. I recommend that you consider connecting with a “frentor” or “friend-mentor.” Frentor is a term which describes an organic yet strategic, mutually beneficial friendship and mentorship relationship.

I first heard the term frentor being used by entrepreneurs and authors Dorie Clark and Jenny Blake. I recently asked Dorie what a frentorship means to her, and how it has enhanced her personal and professional lives. She explained to me:

"I've never had a ‘mentor’ in the typical sense of the word - i.e., an older colleague systematically guiding me. I think those are often in short supply these days, as people face more professional demands and expectations, even as they approach retirement. Instead, I've found that I often learn the most from talented friends, who are peers but may have expertise in certain areas that I don't, or vice versa. I would do anything for a close friend like Jenny Blake. She's taught me a lot professionally, and I'm honored that I've been able to help her, as well."

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Provide Value and Genuinely Invest in Relationships

Once you’ve selected your potential frentors, how do you get yourself out of secret admirer status and into legit frentor status? Chances are, the potential mentors you have selected are sharing plenty of advice already and you should use it! Don't monopolize their time by asking questions to which they've already posted answers. Once you’ve done all your background research (some might call it “stalking”; I call it “research”), you’re ready to make your move.

First, you should focus on authentically providing value to that person — whether it’s buying their book, rating their podcast, sharing their articles, commenting on their posts, or volunteering for an event that they are running. For example, I admire and have learned so much from both Jenny Blake and Dorie Clark, so I engage with them on social media, and share their work to inspire others. Jenny has donated her time to speak at an event for the non-profit I volunteer with, and I spread the word to my network about her game-changing career book Pivot. I recently made sure to pre-order Dorie’s new book (Entrepreneurial You) and grabbed tickets to attend her NYC launch party, and she’s providing me the honor and opportunity to read and review the book before it’s available to the public.

If they have a blog, read their posts and sign up for the newsletter! If they’re social media mavens, connect with them on IG, Snap, Twitter, and Facebook! Ask them something they haven’t already been asked. Ask them to elaborate on something they have been asked. This will show you have similar interests and passions, that you’ve done your research, and that you’re invested in the relationship. If you genuinely invest in relationships without expecting anything, the rest will follow naturally.

Learn and Teach

Find a local community group or non-profit that reflects your vision, entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to succeed. Join their events, meet their partners, and volunteer to help execute their mission. You will learn and grow more than you ever imagined, both personally and professionally. I am passionate about women succeeding in business, so I volunteer for the United Women in Business Foundation, and served as NYC President on their Board of Directors for three years (2014 - 2016). I have volunteered thousands of hours, and the lessons learned and connections made have been priceless, catapulting my career and writing opportunities in so many unexpected ways. Partnerships and frentorships will develop organically and connect you with people on a similar journey. (Don’t think you have enough time to hustle, volunteer, or barter? Then you need to hear this ultimate advice from Gary Vee.)

Some people you meet will have more advanced skills and connections, and they will challenge you and help you grow. Forbes'​ #1 Social Media Power Influencer Sean Gardner, for example, has been a life-changing frentor. We connected on Twitter over three years ago and he has introduced me to amazing organizations like Giving Tuesday and World Tourism Forum, and to magical people like one of my newest mentors Saba Tekle, along with believing in me during difficult times when I needed encouragement the most.

Some humans will have less experience than you, and you should teach them what you've learned and help them expand (you’ll grow tremendously from this as well). I connected with millennial writer and editor Tom Kuegler on Twitter too, after I randomly tweeted about an article that he had written that I liked. He tweeted back to say thanks, I then stalked researched his social media and realized we had gone to the same college ― just seven years apart! We’ve since developed a frentorship and have been emailing back and forth questions, ideas, and tips. Even though I had a head start on experience, I’ve learned equally as much, if not more, from being frentors with Tom ― his tips on freelancer organization, posting on Medium, article brainstorming, and headline writing have been so valuable as I continue to learn and grow.

Learning and teaching should never end. It's a cycle that will propel you throughout your entire career. The best part is that you learn just as much from both ends of the experience spectrum. You never know who you will meet and how you will evolve by connecting and making an impact within your community.

Build Trust and Barter

Build trust within your community and use your skills to barter with other professionals to get ahead. If you’re great at proofreading, offer to trade reviewing a writer’s blog posts for social media advice. If you have a strong Instagram or Twitter presence, ask to promote a local non-profit in exchange for being featured on their blog. If you love traveling, offer to help a potential frentor who you admire research or coordinate travel plans so you can provide value and start building that relationship. Figure out what you love to do and what you kick ass at, and use those skills to volunteer and grow your network.

Next time you meet a powerful professional, think not what they can do to help you, but what you can do to help them and support their vision. Engage those you admire in strategic professional relationships. These mentorship strategies will make you a powerful presence in your community, align you with frentors to push you forward, and grow your skillset tremendously. Before you know it, the next generation will be pursuing you as a potential mentor!

Have a career or travel question? Ask Strategic Stephanie on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter!

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