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You need more mentoring in lockdown. Here’s how to get it

Guidance is essential during this uncertain time, that’s why employees everywhere shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to mentors new and old. Barbara Cowan, head of talent and inclusion at Comcast Advertising shares four strategies for making the most out of mentorships.

It’s 2020 and many of us are feeling professionally lost. We’re facing remote work situations, an unstable economy, and general anxiety about what will come next. According to a recent survey, nearly seven out of 10 employees say that the Covid-19 pandemic has been the most stressful time of their entire professional career with nearly half saying they worry about the future of the company they work for, and about their job specifically. And this is in addition to all the typical work-related stress we faced before Covid-19 – lack of clarity, difficult co-workers, promotions, and biases in the workplace.

Mentoring has been a proven way to navigate challenges and increase workplace opportunity, including career advancement. This is the reason that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentorship programs in place, per Forbes. Today, the right coaching is more important than ever, especially for women and people of color who may be under-represented in their fields. And in a time when many of us are working remotely and may be uncertain about the future of our jobs due to the events of Covid-19, mentoring can provide a connection and an important sense of community.

But how do you find the right mentor? And how do you make the relationship work when you can’t grab a cup of coffee and look each other in the eye? Below, I offer some tips on getting the most out of mentoring, no matter what your current situation.

There is a difference between a ‘work confidant’ and a mentor. You need both.

When you are facing questions or challenges in the workplace, it is natural to go to a trusted co-worker for advice. Work friends are important and healthy. Having a trusted colleague to share ideas, interests or even vent about a situation contributes to your happiness and engagement. One study found that having friends at work boosts job satisfaction by 50%. Friends are less likely to judge your reactions, will often agree with you and provide an outlet for your steam. This is different from a mentor, who will not commiserate as much as they will consult. You need both to navigate and enjoy work. And, you need to know the difference and who to call on when.

A mentor is someone who will not just agree with you and support you, but someone who will guide you, providing unbiased advice and even make introductions to help solve your challenges. Often this is someone who open doors for you when you’re looking for a promotion or a new job, as many are today. While ’work friends’ can help triage your office issues as they come up, turn to a mentor for strategic guidance and long-term advice.

I have been fortunate to have both. Many mentors have become friends over time. With mentor-friends I let them know what I need when we start a conversation. Sometimes I just need a friend to listen and sometimes I need to change my thinking. A good partner will recognize the difference and sometimes give you what you need, even if you don’t realize it.

The right mentor will help you stay relevant and engaged – especially if you’ve lost your job.

As many of us face uncertainty and anxiety in the rocky 2020 economy, staying engaged is more important than ever. This is true for people in existing positions as well as those looking for new roles or out of a job completely, who need to keep growing their skills.

Choose your mentors not just based on their titles or connections, but on their ability to both guide and motivate you in particular. The right person can help bring a perspective to a stalled idea, can help you think strategically rather than reactively, and they can help you stay engaged even if you are out of work. And if you are looking for a job today, don’t hold off contacting your mentor or finding a new mentor; even if they can’t help you find a new position or a promotion in the current market, the right person can help you be ready when the economy comes back.

There are several kinds of mentors. You can, and should, have more than just one.

The traditional vision of a mentor is a senior person in your industry who you sit down with once a month for guidance and advice. It’s time to turn this vision on its head. 2020’s workplace demands are more complicated than ever, so you need different mentors for different needs. A mentor could be a peer, a more junior colleague, a person unrelated to your industry that have knowledge and experiences in areas that you are seeking.

Many of my mentors are situational. I have ’mentors in the moment’. I have mentors who are experienced speakers who help me prepare for presentations; mentors who are moms that I seek parenting advice from and mentors who have a grasp on social media and pop culture who are thirty years younger than me.

How do you ask? Just ask.

Once you have identified the mentor or mentors that are right for you, it’s time to ask that person to serve in that way. For a more informal relationship, an official ’ask’ is not necessary, but for ongoing guidance, especially from someone at the executive level, it is best to have a discussion first. Share with that person why you think you would be a good fit together, and how the relationship could benefit both of you. Then, set up a video call so you can look each other in the eye, and don’t be intimidated: your mentor is facing many of the same challenges you face during these unprecedented times. Together, you can navigate this uncertain time, and hopefully both come out stronger in the end.

Barbara Cowan, head of talent and inclusion, Comcast Advertising

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