Professional Guidance Where You Least Expect It: The 5 Types of Mentors You’re Missing Out On

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Throughout her career — from her days as a young professional working in pharmaceuticals to her roles in higher education and her return to medical sales — Lisa Swift-Young has repeatedly turned to one thing to help her gain experience and accelerate her growth: mentorship.

Now an executive business coach in her own right, Swift-Young told in an interview in August that she learned firsthand how invaluable mentorship is for everyone — and especially for women and Black professionals.

Whether you’re just starting out or have been steadily forging your career path for a while now, developing a relationship with a mentor can be a huge asset — as long as you have the right mentor, that is. And finding that person may require looking outside your industry.

Many people look at someone they admire and say, “I want to get to where you are,” so they try to emulate their path. But everyone is unique. Your goal should be to learn valuable skills from a mentor who can guide you confidently on your own path. The best mentor for that role could come from a surprising background.

In particular, it’s a good idea to keep yourself open to guidance from the following kinds of mentors:

1. Mentors Who Previously Worked in Your Industry

A professional who has previously worked in your industry has the benefit of hindsight. Looking in from the outside, they may have clarity into issues that others in your industry are too immersed in to fully understand. They can often speak frankly about their experiences in the industry without having to worry about keeping up appearance — and they can even offer insight into how your skills can transfer outside of your field if need be.

You may wonder why you’d turn to someone who has left your industry when you’re focused on career advancement within it, but these mentors know about parts of your path you haven’t encountered yet. They can help you prepare to face tough choices, keep your options open, and become a more well-rounded professional.

2. Mentors Whose Strengths Are Your Weaknesses

There is always room to further develop the skills you’re already good at, but finding and filling the gaps in your competencies can be equally advantageous.

Naturally, the best mentors push you to refine all of your skills. Still, it’s particularly beneficial to find a mentor whose success stems from their strengths in the areas where you could use some improvement.

For example, Swift-Young took on a position where several people reported to her, but she had little leadership experience. For this reason, she looked for mentors with great leadership qualities who would push her outside of her comfort zone to develop as a leader.

3. Mentors With Valuable Transferable Skills

You can excel in your field by acquiring skills that were taught neither during formal education nor on the job. Rather than trying to stretch yourself thin by adding additional schooling on top of your career, you can look for a mentor outside your industry who uses these skills every day.

For example, if you work in a non-technical role, developing technology skills can still be a huge differentiator for you. Of course, great mentors with these skills may exist within your industry, but a mentor whose career hinges on mastery of these skills is more likely to be able to help you learn and apply these skills to your own role.

4. Mentors Whose Challenges and Triumphs Are Similar to Yours

Someone with similar life experiences as you — someone who has faced and overcome the same challenges as you — can be an incredibly powerful mentor. For example, Swift-Young told that women of color often feel most comfortable with mentors who are also women of color.

You may work in an industry in which finding people whose backgrounds align with your own is difficult. In this case, you can look outside your industry to find someone you can connect with.

5. Virtual Mentors

We live in a virtual world. Fortunately, that means it’s easier than ever to connect with the right mentor — no matter where they are. While it’s ideal to meet with a mentor face to face, some of your most valuable mentors may be people you never meet in person.

In fact, it’s even possible to learn a great deal from someone without ever initiating conversation. Following a person on social media, reading their books, and listening to their talks can be a form of mentorship. It’s not as personal as working with someone one on one, but if you’re intentional about how you engage with their content, you’ve found an unconventional mentor.

Whether you personally connect with your virtual mentor or heed their guidance alongside a mass of dedicated followers, accessing mentorship through the internet allows you to find professional guidance in a whole host of new places.

When it comes to finding a great mentor, the only limit is yourself. If you’re struggling to connect with mentors within your industry, take a step back. Broaden the view. The right mentor for you may be just around the corner or halfway around the world, finding the success you dream of in a place you hadn’t thought to look before.

Karyn Mullins is president of Connect with Karyn on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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By Karyn Mullins