We recently presented a career development program for NY LMA’s Future Leader’s SIG. 20+ professionals showed up on a very cold evening to learn how to set and achieve career goals.
Many of the attendees have been in legal marketing for less than 3 years. They all brought enthusiasm and an interest in learning more about how to be of value and succeed. One of the participants asked a great question, “How does one get a mentor in this field?” Here is what I told her: “The concept of having one mentor who will bring you to the top of your career ladder is unrealistic. What is much more valuable and achievable is to identify professionals who can be career advisors. What I mean by this is, think about several people (rather than a single “mentor”), who either understand the unwritten rules of your work environment or are people you have great respect for and ask them for career advice and insights. These professional may be much more senior than you are and may even work in other firms or fields. Come prepared to the meeting/call with thoughtful questions. These questions may include:
- What skills do you most value in your top employees?
- What kind of educational experiences help someone to be of value?
- What are some pitfalls you have seen team members commit that derailed their careers?
Make sure to thank this senior professional for their time, ideally with a hand written note. And most importantly, follow up over time and let them know how you implemented their advice. If you stay in touch and let them know how their insights were useful, they are much more likely to be there for you the next time you need advice.
For those of you who are reading this and thinking, “I don’t know where to get a career advisor” – start by thinking about who got you where you are today. For example, who wrote your letters of recommendation for college/grad school or served as a reference for the job you have now? When was the last time you were in touch with them? Please don’t make the mistake of reaching out to your career supporters only when you need them. I had this happen last week and it did not feel good. Of course I agreed to give the reference – but I felt a little bit out of loop, as I didn’t really know what had been going on since the individual left my company. Honestly, it doesn’t feel good to be contacted only when someone needs something from you and it doesn’t leave the door open to a mentoring relationship.
So no matter what level you are at, if you want someone to be your career advisor, ask thoughtful questions, follow up and let them know how they were helpful, and above all, stay in touch when you DON’T need them, so they are there for you when you DO!