Over the years, I've had a few female bosses offer guidance. But they never helped me break through any sort of glass ceiling, get promoted, boost my skills or navigate a career change. Now in my 50s, I work diligently to form these kinds of relationships, and it’s happening. I can feel the impact both psychologically and concretely in the way my work life is progressing.
We all need someone with experience and gravitas of whom we can ask questions without fear of looking stupid or putting our position in jeopardy.
Finding an unpaid advisor who has the time available to listen and counsel takes time and patience. A good mentor is not a career coach per se, though they may play that role at times. A good mentoring relationship grows organically over time. It takes nurturing, but a relationship often lasts for years, and a friendship grows that is priceless.
Almost universally, the workers I know who have made a successful transition to new work after 50 had at least one person they could turn to when the ground got shaky. It was inevitably someone who was experienced with the ins and outs of the new line of work and could lend a verbal hand.
These workers tapped into a great mentor for constructive advice, a “you can do it” pep talk. Sometimes it was a tough love kick in the pants or brutal honesty. In the best scenarios, the mentor opened up a broad network of contacts that gave back tenfold as resources, even as investors in a new venture, or leads to future job opportunities.
It makes sense. Most people like to help each other out when we can, provided we have the time and think we can really make a difference. There are tangible and intangible benefits to having a mentor.
Someone with a mentor is more confident and self-aware and often more of a risk taker, according to a recent Gallup survey based on its consulting practice.
By absorbing advice from people who have been successful in a field you want to jump into, you can get a sense of what the work is like on a day-to-day basis. You learn what has worked for them in the past and what stumbling blocks to avoid.
Like most things in life, finding a mentor is a process. The right chemistry takes some trial and error. And there’s no law that says you can only have one– and they can be both male and female. Remember, you aren’t looking for yes-men and -women, who support you no matter what. You want them to believe in your mission, but you need to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. No lip-gloss.
Landing the right person to have in your corner may take some work on your part. But the resulting relationship can truly impact your life. A study published by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that both men and women who have a mentor behind them are more likely than those without one to ask their boss for a raise, or an assignment that pushes them out of their comfort zone.
LinkedIn surveyed nearly 1,000 female professionals in the United States and found that most women feel that it’s important to have a mentor. But most boomer women don’t actually have one.
About two-thirds of boomer women—between 45 and 66 years old—say they never had a mentor, according to LinkedIn’s study. LinkedIn asked the women who hadn’t had a mentor why that was the case. More than half of the women say they hadn’t had a mentor because they had “never encountered someone appropriate.”
Ask yourself what you want in a mentor. Is it an expert who can help with a specific goal—finding a job, planning a second career, asking for a raise, say, or suggesting ways to spiff up your image with the proper dress for success attire? Do you want someone at your workplace who can be an advocate for your project or promotion, or someone on the outside who can act as a more general sounding board and big-picture guide?
Finding A Mentor
Your employer may have a mentoring program. Check with the human resources department. Many big corporations offer sponsorship and mentoring programs.
Look outside the office. You can find mentors you have met through activities you’re involved in. Consider neighbors, friends, and relatives. One person I call for guidance is my big sister. This works for me. She’s smart, successful, and a good listener with clear advice and no hidden agenda.
Check out alumni groups. Your high school, college, or university’s alumni association may offer a mentoring program.
Tap into professional associations and groups. They often have mentoring programs to match members with experienced mentors. For example, local chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners (nawbo.org) offer mentoring programs. Your town’s Rotary Club, U.S. Small Business Association (SBA), and the Chamber of Commerce near you are good resources.
Mine your social media contacts. An “Advanced People” Search on LinkedIn, for example, can lead you to a potential mentor. You might search for someone from your alma mater. You can focus the search on your zip code or town, so you can connect with someone nearby.
Consider a mentor younger than you. 50+ workers might want to tap someone who may be junior in age but can offer more experience and guidance when it comes to new fields and areas like technology, where you might not be quite as fluent.
Skip the formal request. The main reason most mentors and sponsors say they take the time to counsel and help is the intangible satisfaction they get in paying it forward. Start by simply asking for advice on one action or problem.
Make it fun. Find ways to meet regularly, even without an urgent agenda. Nurture the relationship.
Do something for them. Show your gratitude. Make the relationship reciprocal by serving as a source of information and support for your mentor in some way. It’s the proverbial two-way street.
Be a mentor. This will give you a better idea of how to work with a mentor yourself. Even if you are at the bottom of your hierarchy at work or in your field, you might find mentees through alumni associations or nonprofits where you volunteer.
Listen. As a mentor, resist the temptation to give instant advice. You don’t have to solve their problem that precise minute. As a mentee, don’t respond defensively. That’s easier said than done. Hit the pause button and give yourself time to absorb the message and consider if it works for you.
Even if you’re not looking for a career as a software developer, accountant, marketing analyst or one of the other top jobs for 2013, you may be considering a job change in the New Year. But, should you? Yes. Even if you are grateful for having a job in this challenging economy, that doesn’t mean you are stuck. Here are seven good reasons to change jobs and one surprising reason to stay.
7 Reasons to Change Jobs
1. You don't enjoy your daily tasks and activities. Perhaps once you did, but now you've mastered them and want a new challenge. Or, the job has never been a good fit for your abilities. According to the Society of Human Resources’ (SHRM) 2012 Employee Satisfaction and Engagement report, the opportunity to use your skills and abilities was the top factor for employee job satisfaction.
2. You don't enjoy the people you work with. One of the biggest reasons people want to change jobs is because of their boss. The SHRM report found that your relationship with your immediate supervisor was in the top five factors to employee job satisfaction. Co-workers can also make your daily life pleasant or a pain in the neck. Who you work with counts.
3. You can't move up like you want to. Perhaps it's because of the glass ceiling or that the job opportunities at higher levels just aren't there.
4. You want to make more money. Compensation/pay was also in SHRM’s top five factors for employee satisfaction. Sometimes the best way to get a pay increase for your current skills is to change companies, especially if you've been at the same company for a long time. You get stuck in a cycle of pay increases based on merit rather than what your skills are worth in the marketplace. That happened to me after 10 years at AOL and was one of the reasons why I had to move on.
5. The job demands more from you in ways that you want to give (e.g., time or travel). Perhaps it's a new commute that's just too much or that you've decided the price for gaining responsibility and a bigger paycheck isn't worth it. This is something only you can decide.
6. Your job is going away due to downsizing or otherwise. This one speaks for itself.
7. You're moving out of the area. And working virtually is not an option.
1 Surprising Reason to Stay(At Least for a While)
There are instances, however, when I think it's worth sticking to your current job and try to work through your dissatisfaction. Perhaps you recently took a new job and it’s not going as expected. Maybe the manager doesn't seem happy with your work, but won't tell you why. Or, you’re now being told about duties that weren’t brought up when you interviewed.
Unmet expectations. That's the key thing here. When your ideas about what your job entails is different from what it really is or has become, the best thing to do is to proactively identify and address the gap with the person who can do something about it, often your manager.
This is easier said than done. It's far easier to convince yourself you need to change jobs than it is to get uncomfortable and deal with the conflict. By having the courage to express your frustrations and being willing to talk through it, you may find that changes can be made that make your job enjoyable, maybe even better than you originally imagined. At the very least you will learn something valuable to take into your next position. You owe it to yourself to try.
When I first became Corporate Training Manager for AOL I was thrilled! It was all I thought it was going to be. However, after a few years of enjoying the position and producing results, dissatisfaction started to creep in. I was ready for more and believed I'd earned a new opportunity. The more time passed without my boss saying anything about the next step for me, the more dissatisfied I became.
I finally realized that if I wanted to talk about it, I had to bring it up. At our one-on-one meeting I told him I was interested in moving up and wanted to know, in his opinion, what I had to do for that to happen. That was the beginning of a dialogue that spread over several months. At the same time I also started to ask my colleagues about their impressions of my performance to get feedback.
Then the shocker happened. My boss created a new role that would have been my perfect next step, but he never considered me for the position! He slammed the door shut on my career development and it hurt. However, as a result of me telling him my aspirations and asking for feedback, I gained something very valuable. I figured out where I wanted to take my career and knew for sure that AOL wasn't going to get me there. After several months I left the company, but I'm glad I stuck it out to understand what was really going on and what I really wanted.
None of this was easy. Many times I was scared to open my mouth, but I did it anyway. Being successful requires risk. You can't get around it. You've got to feel your fear, do it anyway, and see what happens. There's just no other way to make progress in your life or your career.