You’d be hard-pressed to find a working professional who hasn’t heard about the benefits of a great mentor. We’re told that a mentor will shepherd us along in our careers, provide us with invaluable support, and help us avoid mishaps. And the multitude of articles on “how to find the perfect mentor” shows just how many of us are craving that kind of guidance.
But here’s the thing: The quest for a perfect mentor might be for naught. Because we’re often looking for someone who’s a) well-established and knowledgeable enough to properly advise us and b) willing to dedicate the time and resources to our career advancement.
But speak with any well-established and knowledgeable person killing it in their career and you’re likely to hear the same whispered concern: Being asked to mentor someone is a lovely compliment, but where will I find the time?
If you can’t find a unicorn who has both the time and desire to mentor you, don’t despair; there are alternatives to having a mentor. Here are a few:
Look at those immediately above you
It’s easy to dream up mentors who are in the uppermost ranks of a company. You’ll have much better luck securing a mentor, though, if you look to people you work with or have worked with in the past who are a step or two above you. They don’t have to be the company’s CEO nor its most visible person.
“Someone who’s about to hit mid-level can be a great mentor,” Shaunah Zimmerman, co-founder of , a community platform dedicated to fostering mentorship opportunities for women of color in the advertising industry, previously told Girlboss. “Even though they may not have [as much experience as a senior or executive-level employee], they may still have very powerful connections. If you really have a meaningful relationship with this mentor, it can lead to the senior-level introductions you want.”
Scope out professional networks
Remember all those professional organizations that set up tables during welcome week in college? Well, similar organizations exist post-college; there are almost certainly established professional networking organizations in your field. Consider these organizations the entryway for you to find some true gems in the form of key professional contacts. And while networking can be tricky, it remains a cornerstone of how we find out about new job opportunities.
Don’t limit yourself to just scoping out other professionals in your age range, either. Sometimes the very best advice can come from someone who’s far more experienced than you. When Jen Glantz set about establishing her company Bridesmaid for Hire, she scouted out a mentor through a third-party service that matches retired businesspeople with entrepreneurs. “That’s how I got connected to my very own mentor, Ray, who was 83 and spent most of his life inventing products and managing a business with thousands of employees, all before there was such a thing as LinkedIn or Quickbooks,” Glantz previously wrote for Girlboss.
Don’t rule out your family and friends
We often rely on those nearest and dearest to us for our venting sessions. But it’s worthwhile to ask them about their own professional accomplishments and mishaps. Chances are, in the same way they’re honest with you about your flaws, they’ll admit their own professional mistakes—and share what you can learn. Have you ever asked your siblings what they think you do best? What you could improve on? You might be surprised at the level of insight that those closest to you posses.
At the very least, your loved ones can be your biggest cheerleaders as you progress professionally. Case in point? Oprah credits her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, for motivating her to have the confidence to speak up when she was young.