– This post was written by Natalie Kim, founder of We Are Next.
Mentors are the fairy godmothers of your career. They encourage you when things feel hopeless, connect you with useful knowledge, people and opportunities, and get you to the ball (or your next job).
But unlike Cinderella, you have to earn your mentor’s magic. Whether your mentor is your boss, someone you cold emailed (bravo!) or the judge you connected with after winning Young Shits, here are four ways to get the most out of the relationship.
1) At the beginning make it less about you and more about them
Let’s say you’ve identified a potential godmother and want to ask them to be your mentor. Make it less about what you need and more about that person. Be genuinely curious and thoughtful in who you reach out to. Internet-stalk them and find the reason(s) you want to connect with that specific person. Then kick off the relationship by asking about their career path or what their current role entails.
Most folks in the industry love talking about themselves (though we may not admit it or put ourselves out there). They’ll be much more willing to take that meeting or phone call vs. if you open with what you need from them. Once you’ve established a connection, there will be plenty of time to ask for their help.
2) Move beyond advertising
Talking about advertising only scratches the surface level of a mentor relationship. To build a stronger, more lasting bond, get to know each other as full people. What does your mentor do outside of work? What did they think of the latest season of GoT? What’s their philosophy on life? How’s their mom?
The best mentorship happens when there’s emotional investment between the mentor and mentee. And that only comes from baring other parts of yourself. (Not literally baring parts. Don’t do that.)
3) Mentor the mentor
We look up to our mentors, but they put their pants (or bra) on the same way you do. We’re all just people looking to learn so we can be more awesome at our jobs (and life, because see #2). To keep the relationship from feeling one-sided (i.e. you constantly take-take-taking), think about what you’re bringing to it as a mentee.
Maybe it’s your perspective as a young’in. Or an article you think they’d find interesting. Or the password to the newest speakeasy you can only access through a manhole cover. Whatever it is, try to bring value to their lives on a consistent basis—not just when you need something.
4) Let them celebrate your success
Imagine you put time and effort towards something, but never saw any progress. You wouldn’t keep doing whatever you’re doing, and you’d stop caring about it, fast.
When something great happens in your career—you helped win a big pitch, overcame your fear of speaking up, or landed that dream gig—tell your mentor about it. More importantly, show how their input has helped you get there. The positive feedback will give your mentor warm fuzzies, and encourage them to keep investing in you.
Your future mentors are out there waiting to help you along in your career. And for added guidance, We Are Next gathers advice and insight from all over the industry. It’s like having hundreds of mentors. Sort of.
You got this.
Natalie Kim is the founder of We Are Next, a resource that helps students and junior talent begin their advertising and marketing careers with confidence. She’s spent 10 years in advertising, most recently as Director of Strategy at Firstborn in New York City, and has partnered with clients such as L’Oreal, HBO, Coca-Cola and Bacardi. She’s been recognized on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in Marketing & Advertising and was awarded the GenNext Award by She Runs It for young women already making their mark on the industry.