The benefits of having a mentor while looking for a job

Dec 05, 2022 - updated Mar 25, 2024

4 mins

The benefits of having a mentor while looking for a job
Molly LaFlesh

Writer, comedy writer, and HR leader based in New York City.

Despite trending topics like the Great Resignation, quiet quitting, and strengthening labor unions, job hunting in the modern age can be discouraging, to say the least.

With over half of the employed American workforce actively looking for new job opportunities or considering leaving their current employer, plus the current 3.9% unemployment rate, the competition is fierce for the 8.9 million open jobs across the US. Add to that the fact that recruiters are spending just seven seconds looking at your resume and you’ve got quite a battle in standing out from the crowd of applicants. So how can you, as a savvy job hunter, cut through the noise and find your next great career opportunity? The answer lies in one of the most powerful tools in a job seeker’s toolkit: a career mentor.

I’m already qualified for the job—why turn to a career mentor?

Emily Worden, a Massachusetts-based professor and Certified Professional Career Coach, calls working with a mentor “the number-one career move young people can do.” With corporate job openings receiving 250 applications on average, according to a report from Zippia, online portals can often be saturated and make it difficult for candidates to be seen. “Going online and finding a job and applying is the hard way to do it. Working your network is the smart way to do it,” Worden says.

“People are still going about [job hunting] the old-fashioned way. They apply to a hundred different jobs; they never hear back; they feel completely demoralized about it. Mentors and coaches can go a long way because they can show you where you’re wasting your time.” An experienced mentor can also help you “ask for a promotion, map out your career, and figure out where you’d want to leap-pad over the next few years.” They can also “provide emotional support” and act as a “sounding board” for your career ideas,” Worden says.

Research agrees that having a mentor is valuable. The 2019 CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness Survey showed that 90% of workers with a mentor were happy at work, and 40% without one had considered quitting in the last month. What’s more, the survey found “Workers with a mentor are more likely than those without to say they’re well paid (79% vs. 69%) and to believe that their contributions are valued by their colleagues (89% vs. 75%) — two key components of overall happiness at work.”

An in-depth Sun Microsystems study measuring their internal corporate mentorship program found employees with at least one mentor were more than twice as likely to get promoted, performed measurably better at work, and reported higher job satisfaction.

How to use a mentor while looking for a job

Worden says the number-one value a mentor can provide while you’re seeking a new job is to use their network. The value is not only in “their knowledge, but their network, and the knowledge of people in their network.” She says the biggest roadblock she sees from jobseekers is a lack of self-esteem. “You might not see past your own limitations…[while a mentor can] give you that reality check and say ‘no, you can.’”

In addition, Worden continues, a mentor can help you “springboard.” If you have an “ultimate dream of where [you] want to get, but [you] need to take a few more steps to get there, the mentor can help [you] plot out those steps.” Finally, if you’re looking to break into a new field, having a mentor in the field you want to get into gives you focus,” Worden says.

Sounds great—but how do I find one?

A mentor is a professional “at least 10 years older than you, who’s been through those [career] ropes,” Worden says, who you typically “meet with maybe once a month, once a quarter.” One route to finding a mentor is to participate in a corporate-sponsored mentorship program, which is offered by 84% of Fortune 500 companies.

If your company doesn’t offer such a program, find an in-house mentor on your own. Worden says, “You should be doing this from the first month on the job—looking for people who can advocate for you within the company.” You can use those same colleagues, she says, to find your next opportunity “outside [your company], to help you with your further career growth.”

If your current job lacks that type of support, you want to switch fields, or you simply want more than one mentor to turn to—a practice Worden strongly recommends— is to “go on Linkedin [and] type in some keywords of people who are doing jobs that you admire; study their career path.” Worden also recommends collecting “virtual mentors” that you don’t necessarily engage with: “The people whose careers you really admire. Follow [them] on social media and take in their advice.”

Popping the question: “It’s not like dating!”

“[It’s not] like ‘hi, will you be my mentor?’ It’s not like dating!” Worden says. “Most of the time it happens out of natural relationships, where you’re talking with them, and then before you know it, you’re in that mentor relationship.” Even if the relationship doesn’t stick, she says, “they could even be a mentor for a day.”

To make the initial ask, Worden recommends reaching out “for a half-hour informational interview [saying], ‘being able to talk with you for a half hour would just make my year.’ Who wouldn’t love to hear that?”

Be a good mentee

Like any professional situation, there’s an etiquette for mentorship. “Number one: take notes,” Worden says, “and be fully present to their advice without ‘yes, but’-ing them. It might not all one hundred percent apply to you, but you want to be respectful of their time and respectful of the gift that they’re giving you of their knowledge.”

After each meeting, Worden says, it’s also important to Ask follow-up questions, send a thank-you note for their time, [and] actively check in with them,” she says. “You are responsible for maintaining that relationship.”

Final thoughts

While the job hunt can often feel disheartening, remember that you don’t have to navigate it on your own. Mentorship is a powerful tool that can help you stand out from the crowd. Whether through formal mentorship programs or occasional advice from individuals you admire, these meaningful connections can be transformative, not only during the job search but for the trajectory of your career journey.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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