Startup Advice

How to Find a Mentor—The Right Way

By: Helen Phung | June 11, 2018

Across industries, departments, and demographics, mentorship plays a critical role in the success of a person’s career. For example, while millennials are well-known for job hopping and switching careers, the ones that plan to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not (32%). Even beyond generational differences, 75 percent of private sector executives say mentoring has been critical in their own career development.

Last week, our co-founder Laura Behrens-Wu joined Cloudflare COO and co-founder Michelle Zatlyn and Stripe COO Claire Hughes Johnson in a panel on women in enterprise, hosted by Union Square Ventures (USV). Moderated by SF Business Times’ Alisha Green, the panel quickly hit on an important theme: how do you go about finding a professional mentor?

Claire Hughes Johnson, Michelle Zatlyn, and Laura Behrens-Wu speaking at a USV panel

Have Fun Looking for Your Network

When you’re looking to meet other people in your industry, make sure you have a casual mindset. If it feels forced, it won’t work.

Laura explained, “Networking is not one of my core strengths. I’m not a naturally extroverted person, and I still do it. It’s something that can sound daunting, but if you approach it from a more fun and relaxed way, [networking is] something you can do without having to be an extrovert.”

“We started through an accelerator program, which opened up doors to other investors and  angel investors. Through the angel investors, we met our series A investors. As soon as we entered one network, we were able to get introduced to other people.”

Find Your Mentor Online

It can be much more resource-intensive to develop a relationship with someone in-person. You can find people to learn from online just by reading their blog or website and engaging with them on social media.

“Something that’s surprising to me is that there’s a lot of people I haven’t met, but I still consider them mentors. The one thing I find amazing with technology is there’s a lot of people online who are blogging, tweeting, and writing articles. If you want, you can learn from and follow them and it almost feels like you know them even if you’ve never met them. Especially in enterprise or SaaS, there’s people like Jason Lemkin who writes a lot of great content that’s very relevant. You don’t need to know him, but it almost feels like he can be your mentor. He’s very approachable.” said Michelle.

Let Mentorship Happen Organically

Choosing your mentor is not something you can force. Instead, find ways to learn from others already in your world. “A lot people that I’ve been mentoring are people that have worked with me in some way. I give them both career advice and sometimes technical advice on the work they’re doing,” shared Claire. “But I think over time in your life you accumulate different types of advisors and don’t forget that [interacting with them] can be very infrequent. Don’t worry too much about the maintenance and finding, it happens organically as long as you don’t have really high expectations.”

Consider Your Own Board of Advisors

On a related note, you’ll want to determine a circle of people that you lean on for major decisions. “Some people say to have a board of advisors. If you’re making a major career decision or life decision, there’s a few people that you know and trust their opinion and they know you very well and will tell you the truth,” said Claire. “There are friends of mine that are pretty successful women in business…generally have accumulated that board of advisors that you turn to. I think it’s useful if they’re outside of your immediate life.”

It’s imperative to find mentors throughout your career, but the best professional relationships come naturally. Keep your eyes open for leaders in your everyday life and always be open to learn. If you’re looking for ways to boost your career, you might also be interested in our recent blog post on great qualities of a startup employee.

Helen Phung

Director of PR at Shippo

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