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Do you want a mentor or an advocate?

When making professional connections, it feels easy to confuse wanting a mentor or an advocate – here’s tips for how to get what you need.

Two women sit next to each other in an office environment, talking over coffee and journals as a mentor and mentee.

I see people asking for a mentor all the time. I also see people lament the relationship with their mentors because the outcomes are not what they expected or wanted. One reason for this is that people are requesting mentorship when they really want an advocate. 

Mentorship is a relationship that is about guidance, growth, and development. While professional mentors exist and can support you in achieving your career goals through sharing. Mentors guide and nurture. Mentoring relationships are an exchange between people. 

However, when people ask for mentors frequently, what they really want is an advocate. 

When you are seeking support or information, clearly identify your goals. What are you looking to achieve? What are your priorities? 

When seeking professional development relationships, I find most people are really seeking advocates. They want someone helping them navigate professional next steps and advocating for them. This differs from a mentor relationship. If you want or need an advocate, ask for that. 

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A simple way to do this would be during a performance review or goal-setting conversation with your manager. While reviewing performance or setting goals, ask questions about opportunities and next steps you may be a good fit for. Ask how best to make that next step and ask who may be able to help assist and advocate for you to take next steps. It may be your manager. Your manager may recommend speaking to someone and help connect you. 

If working with your manager does not seem viable or the best option for you, given your goals, search for someone who does what you may want to do. Ask if the person has time for an informational interview. Or, ask if you can ask a few questions. LinkedIn and networking events are great spaces for this.

You can also look at professional organizations or school alumni groups. If you have common experiences and/or interests, the person is more likely to say yes.  This will help establish the relationship necessary for successful advocacy or mentoring. 

I know asking for this type of assistance can be challenging, but it is worth the risk. In my experience, most people are willing to help, you just have to be willing to ask for what you want.

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Kaelin Peterson has a B.A. in Political Science, an MBA, and is currently pursuing an EdD in Performance Improvement Leadership. She currently works as faculty for a non-traditional university focusing on traditionally underserved student populations while also volunteering with a focus on leadership development, values-based leadership, and change management. When not working or doing school work, Kaelin enjoys discovering new foods, quiet spaces, and spending time with her husband and dog.


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