Behind nearly every person who’s achieved success in their field, you’ll find a mentor who helped them get there. For outpatient coder and auditor Sundae Yomes, that person is Claudia Kernaghan. Yomes said her career in the health industry would have stalled without her more experienced colleague’s help.
“I was working as a medical biller and was given the opportunity to transfer into coding, but I had no experience,” Yomes said. “I was determined to be successful, though, and luckily, Claudia took me under her wing and taught me the guidelines and how to use my coding books. It was her guidance and encouragement that helped me attain my first coding credential.”
Today, Yomes is the Las Vegas chapter president of the American Academy of Professional Coders, and mentors other workers every chance she gets.
“I tell people it’s essential to meet up with others and find the right person you click with and can forge a strong friendship with,” she said. “You have to have trust with your mentor and know that they have your best interest at heart.”
As Yomes’ career development shows, mentorships are invaluable. Unfortunately, many millennial workers forgo such relationships, sometimes out of pride, said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, millennial workplace expert and author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough: Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life That Matters.
“Young people are very self-motivated and determined. Often, they want to prove to themselves they can make anything happen. That’s understandable, but not an effective way of approaching career growth,” Poswolsky told HuffPost. “Asking for advice is not a sign of weakness; it shows you care about your job and building your career capital. The more you invest in mentorship, the more you learn.”
Finding and maintaining a mentor relationship is especially important for women. More men than women say they interact with senior leaders at least once a week ― which all too often keeps women at lower levels in their companies, according to research by the management consulting firm McKinsey and the nonprofit Lean In.
Below, Poswolsky and other workplace experts share their best advice for finding a senior workplace ally.
1. Look for someone who has five or 10 years on you in the field.
Kate Snowise, a psychologist and executive coach, encourages clients to look for people who are five to 10 years ahead of them in their careers and in a role they aspire to.
Once you’ve spotted a few prospective mentors, ask them if they wouldn’t mind sparing an hour for coffee to discuss how they ended up where they are in their careers.
“Most people are actually complimented by such an act. In the midst of a busy working world, it is nice to know that someone admires you for where you have gotten and what you have achieved,” Snowise said. “The worst that can happen is you hear nothing back, and the best is that it may be the start a highly beneficial relationship that helps you plan and navigate your own career.”
2. If your workplace has a formal mentorship program, sign up.
Ideally, your workplace values each person’s professional development and has created institutional programs to help connect newer staff with higher-ups.
Mentorship programs are especially important in the wake of recent high-profile workplace sexual harassment scandals. As The New York Times reported, many men in high-powered positions admit they’re less likely to mentor women, fearing that one-on-one interaction with female subordinates could be misinterpreted or gossiped about by others.
“Mentor programs can counter any misconceptions of favoritism or inappropriate activity by being transparent, outlining policies and being structured with the help of HR,” said Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior & Thrive in Your Job.
Plus, Taylor said, such programs also serve to benefit the company.
“Excellent retention, word-of-mouth, talent acquisition and solid growth can be direct results of well-planned mentorship programs,” Taylor said. “They’re the hallmarks of great employers.”
3. Imagine you’re assembling your personal board of directors.
If no mentorship program exists at your job, give your mentor search some direction by pretending you’re searching for investors in you and your future career, Poswolsky said.
“I encourage millennials to build their own board of directors made up of four or five mentors they can turn to for professional and personal advice,” he said. “Find people who have experience in the area you want to work ... whose character and leadership qualities you admire.”
Your mentors should be people you actually want to have a conversation with, Poswolsky explained.
“This isn’t supposed to feel like homework; it’s supposed to be fun,” he said. “The best mentor is someone who will tell like it is, even if that means admitting what they don’t like about their job, or what’s not working at their company. Instead of picking the most senior person at your company, look for someone who will give you honest and thoughtful feedback.”
4. Look for mentors outside your office, too.
Cast an even wider net by going to local networking events and perusing online resources, said Hannah Becker, a millennial career blogger at The Motivated Millennial.
“Online resources are helpful because finding a knowledgeable and supportive mentor in one’s field or organization can be really challenging,” she said. “A few mentor-matching resources I recommend are eMentor for military veterans and MicroMentor for entrepreneurs.”
And don’t forget about LinkedIn’s resources. Late last year, the online resume juggernaut rolled out its Career Advice mentoring program, which aims to connect users with mentors and coaches in their fields, free of charge.
5. Remember, your mentor also benefits from the relationship.
You may feel like your mentor-mentee relationship is one-sided, with you reaping the career benefits and your mentor losing out on valuable time, but that’s not entirely the case. Giving back and helping others actually has amazing benefits for the person doing the giving, Snowise said.
“Research has demonstrated that mentors have higher levels of reported job satisfaction than their colleagues who don’t mentor,” she said. “And if they’re mentoring within your organization, it can lead to better feelings of greater connection and understanding what is happening throughout organization levels.”
What’s more, you may even be able to offer some reverse mentorship to your more senior workplace allies.
“With increasing numbers of millennials now in the workforce, a younger mentee can be a benefit to an older mentor by keeping them up-to-date with millennial trends, technology, and fresh and new perspectives,” Snowise said. “It pays off for everyone.”