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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Darth Vader vs. Yoda: Which Type of Mentor Will Boost Your Career to the Next Level?

It's not what you know, it's who you know.

This frequent truth is one reason that so many of us aspire to increase the size of our network. It's also part of the reason that many people who are starting out in their career are looking for a mentor.

There seem to be two schools of thought about mentorship. The first is that your mentor will spoonfeed you the knowledge, experiences, and professional contacts necessary to move you up the career ladder and that this will be done in a way that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The second is that the best mentors have a tough love approach.

So, which type of mentor is better? I'd like to tell you a story. Several years ago I was determined to make a career change from Marketing and Business Development to Human Resources. I had the transferrable skills to go into recruiting, so that's what I set my sights on. I spent months applying for recruiting jobs online. I had a few interviews. Nothing panned out. Then I got a call from Sean Quimby, whom I had interviewed with a few weeks earlier, and who had called me in person to inform me that GL Advisor had decided to hire a recruiter who had vastly more experience. This time, Sean was calling to tell me that the budget had increased and that, if I was still available, he would like me to join the team.

At the time, I had no idea how lucky I was to have landed this particular job with these two individuals. Sean had been the VP of HR at Zipcar when the company went public and the Director of two HR functions at Equinox. And the person that had beaten me out for the first recruiting opening? That was Jamie Palmer, who has an astonishing amount of full-service recruiting knowledge and experience.

GL Advisor had never had an HR division before, and I had never recruited before. Needless to say, there was a large learning curve on both sides. Every day I felt like I was faking it, until one day I didn't. A few months later, GL Advisor dissolved the HR department. (It had never been their intention to keep it. We were all brought on as independent contractors who would stay only until their short-term needs had been met). I began interviewing for Talent Acquisition positions right away. The interviewers kept asking me the same question: How did I know so much when I had only been doing this for a few months. My answer? I had two great mentors.

When I was working with Sean and Jamie I thought that I was just adapting to my new role. It was only in retrospect that I realized that they had both taken me under their wings and were teaching me everything they knew - even if it wasn't related to the task I was assigned at that very moment. They involved me in projects and assignments that were way out of my league. They expected me to be able to keep up and add value. I think that I lived up to their expectations, although I know that I made some mistakes along the way.

Sean and Jamie did mentor me through fear. But the fear didn't come from tough love; the fear came from being scared of disappointing them. They were my Yodas. They saw the awesomeness inside of me and helped me learn how to harness it. They taught me lessons that I didn't know I needed to learn.

The truth is that mentors come in many different forms. Sometimes you won't even realize that someone was your mentor until your life moves in a direction that takes you away from them. I still speak of Sean and Jamie with fondness in my interviews and in other parts of my life. They didn't just mentor me in Human Resources or in Talent Acquisition. They mentored me about life, about the benefits of risk propensity, about seeing the true potential in others, and about the kind of person I want to be. 

I hope that one day I can pay it forward.

It's not what you know or who you know. It's what you learn from who you know. It's also how you choose to implement that knowledge. The best mentors will get you nowhere if you don't take any action.

Have you had a mentor (or do you currently have one)? I'd love to hear about your experience and about their mentorship style in the comments section!

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