Why Mentoring Matters: You are Not Alone
By Melissa Pepper
Founder of Lead(H)er and Director of Marketing for Lane and Waterman, LLP
I hadn’t uttered it out loud to anyone yet, but I knew I wanted to change my career path. I had no idea how I would go about it, but I was sure change was necessary. At the time, I supervised a team of donor relations professionals at our local blood center –a workplace I loved—the problem was that I lived here in Davenport and my teammates lived and worked about two hours away. In addition to feeling worn down from being a “road warrior” for the last two years, I didn’t feel I was living up to my potential. I have always enjoyed communications, and I had recently taken my first marketing class for my MBA coursework . The class rekindled my interest in the subject, so I unofficially decided I wanted to pursue marketing.
Unofficially deciding something doesn’t often translate into action, and I knew if I were to be successful, I would need to speak my goal out loud. And not just to myself, but to a circle of supporters. I started telling a small group of people I trusted that I was interested in making a big career move. I asked them to let me know if they heard of any job openings. In the meantime, I began asking to complete more marketing-related tasks at work. I enrolled in a second marketing elective for my MBA. I volunteered to help with copywriting and social media aspects of the community organizations I supported. And all of that propelled me forward toward my goal. But what, or I should say who, really pushed me was my mentor, Jenny.
Jenny did (and still does) the job I wanted to do –she runs a marketing department! I asked her to pick apart my cover letters and resume, even though I am not very good at receiving criticism. I let her grill me on interview questions. I reviewed job descriptions with her, and she helped me see which jobs or companies would be a good fit for me. Too often, I was ready to jump into any role, but she was able to steer me in the direction that she knew would be a better fit. Through it all, she was supportive, encouraging, and most importantly, honest. After a job interview, she and I would debrief and she would ask me to give an honest evaluation of how I did and what I needed to work on for next time. When an offer came my way, she coached me on how to negotiate for a higher salary and other benefits. And when it was all over and I had accepted my first marketing job, she celebrated with me—she was genuinely delighted that I had gotten the job.
As a mentor, Jenny’s role wasn’t to do the work for me. I had to sharpen my marketing skills, do my research, and come prepared to each interview. Her job was to offer her perspective, encouragement, and wisdom as someone who worked in the marketing industry. More than that, she gave me the confidence to set my new course, because I didn’t feel I was on the path alone. I think that is greatest asset of having a mentor –someone to listen and guide you so you’re not just saying, “I’m going to make a change!” in your head.
Even if your mentor isn’t in the same industry or you’re not interested in making a big career change like I did, mentors can be that sounding board to help you work toward your goals, connect you with their network, and give you an honest evaluation if you don’t know what to do. They don’t have all the answers and they aren’t meant to. Part of the reward of having a mentor is figuring things out together.
Now Jenny and I are “peers” as far as job titles go, but I still rely on her when I have a question on the job. Our relationship has developed from tactical (research this job, write this cover letter) to strategic (what makes for really good marketing). What hasn’t changed about having her as my mentor is this: I know that I am not alone as I reach toward my goals.