by Jenn Donahue, founder of JL Donahue Engineering
As an early-career professional, you likely have new ideas and fresh perspectives that will help your organization succeed. But reaching a position within your company where your ideas are heard and respected is challenging.
Mentorship can be a considerable career accelerator. A Harvard Business Review study found that mentorship helped 84 percent of participants gain proficiency in their roles faster than their peers without a mentor. Speaking from experience, I have benefited from the mentorship of a charismatic military leader, a technical wizard in engineering seismology, and a brilliant entrepreneur who led a consulting company by genuinely investing in his people. The lessons I learned from these great leaders sharpened my skills and accelerated my career with an above-average promotion rate. Exposure to their vast network of people and ideas ultimately gave me the standing and the confidence to start my own company.
Sometimes this mentor-mentee relationship happens organically, but one mistake that many early-career professionals make is waiting for it to happen. Why leave your career to chance? The fastest way to get what you want is simply to ask, but this can be intimidating because the most valuable mentors are in high demand with limited free time.
If you are prepared to take your career to the next level through mentorship, it’s time to put the insecurity aside and make it happen. My simple strategy can make finding the right mentor an easy and rewarding experience.
1. Identify the areas you need improvement.
Spend some time understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and identify the areas you want to develop. Remember, the goal is not necessarily to turn all your weaknesses into strengths. You can always partner with people who complement your skillset. The purpose of this step is to identify the areas where you have the greatest potential for success if you develop your skills accordingly.
2. Find the right people.
Once you know what you need to work on, it is easier to find the people who can help you. Try not to fall into the trap of looking for one person who embodies all of the things you need. My experience has led me to think about mentorship as developing my personal board of directors. My board consists of a technical master, a leadership guru, and a financial expert.
You will not convert any of the potential mentors that you don’t ask. I know this can be intimidating but think about it this way, your ask means you respect them enough to want their advice and follow their instruction — what a huge compliment! They will be flattered. Trust me; I always am.
4. Be prepared.
Mentorship takes time, and the people you want mentorship from don’t have much of it. So always show up prepared. Demonstrate your progress and prepare for what you want to gain from the interaction ahead of time. Your mentor will only invest as much into you as you invest into the process.
5. Consider paying it forward.
Recognize the many strengths you bring to the table. After you are comfortable being mentored, consider mentoring others. You possess a unique set of skills and perspectives that can benefit others. Start small by identifying instances where your advice could help others and offer it.
Take control of your professional development and find a mentor. The right mentors will help you level-up your career by providing the tools, resources, and growth opportunities for your success.
Jenn Donahue is a leadership coach, engineer, and entrepreneur with 25 years as a member of the US Navy. She is founder of JL Donahue Engineering — a globally recognized boutique seismic analysis and engineering firm. Over the course of her career, Donahue has led operations around the globe, from building a bridge in the middle of an Iraqi war zone to constructing combat outposts in deserts filled with insurgents.