How to Find a Mentor When You’re Working Remotely

There are plenty of perks working remotely, the snacks, the bunny slippers, and the in-home commute. But there’s a certain social ease that office life invites. Those face-to-face meetings, lunches, and happy hours with colleagues and contacts are important social and networking opportunities. They keep our professional communication skills honed and sharp.

A lot of business is cued by the volley of semi-formal workplace chats. It’s hard to conjure that same social finesse via Zoom. It’s simply not as engaging to linger over a remote call as it is around a meeting table.

It can be challenging to make connections when working remotely, and some are vital to career growth, like finding a mentor. How can you target a good prospect and request his or her support? Consider these tips for finding a mentor when you’re working remotely.

Why mentorship?

A mentor is usually a senior professional who works in your company or industry. Your mentor helps give you the inside scoop on your profession, industry, company, etc. He or she helps you understand your role more fully and offers the lowdown on career growth and advancement in your field.

Lisa Fain, CEO of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, and author of Bridging Differences for Better Mentoring, explains that mentorship enhances workplace culture by fostering:

  • More engaged, productive, and connected people
  • Meaningful relationships in the workplace
  • More skilled leaders who understand how to focus on development, listen
    critically and invest in their people.

Fain also points out that mentoring relationships are important for professional development: “[M]entoring relationships help create exposure to opportunities, resources, and people. They help mentees understand what they are doing that might hold them back and find a path forward to create new skills, behaviors and develop new competencies. Mentoring is about creating a safety net, a sounding board, and a laboratory for new possibilities.”

A research ambition

Because you’re working or job searching remotely, the connections you’re making maybe more driven by research than by social opportunities. For example, in the past, you may have had the chance to travel to conventions or employment fairs that are now being hosted online. Before Covid restrictions, you may have met other professionals at breakout sessions, lunches, and happy hours associated with these events. Meeting them now means tracking down attendee or presenter lists and reaching out via phone, email, or LinkedIn. It’s still a great networking opportunity, although it requires a different strategy.

Likewise, joining professional societies can offer robust networking opportunities. Consider participating in society meetings and events. Networking is a big draw, even when social gatherings are held remotely. Perhaps assume a role at society event; for example, be a volunteer or a presenter. Assuming such a role looks good on a resume and offers the chance to meet industry players. Don’t hesitate to reach out to those who impress you. It can feel awkward to introduce yourself, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Dr. Deborah Heiser, Founder/CEO of The Mentor Project, recommends joining online interest groups. She advises: “if you are looking for a writing mentor, join an online writers workshop or group. The same goes for any area – maker groups, photography, law groups, etc. This is a great way to meet (even online) others who have interests or who may have access to those who may help you find the right mentor.”

Another approach: remember your favorite teacher, professor, or another professional at your high school, college, or university? Reach out and connect with that pro. Educators make excellent mentors. Plus, they tend to have robust networks themselves and an awareness of where alumni are staffed.

Finally, Dr. Heiser recommends using online tools to find mentors. She advises: “If you are on a mentoring site such as The Mentor Project, check out the mentors, read their bios and click the ‘Ask a Mentor’ button. We’ve had several students and professionals seek a mentor or just ask specific questions of one of our mentors by using the Ask a Mentor button.”

Do your research. Find your niche. Find your mentor.

Peer-to-peer mentorship

While traditionally, the paradigm involves senior professionals mentoring junior professionals, Gen Z pros are shaking things up. In their book, Engaging Gen Z, Mark Beal and Michael Pankowski point out that peers can also take on a mentoring role.

Beal and Pankowski note that students and young professionals value peer input. Based on their research, the authors point to successful “peer-to-peer mentorship programs where current students are being mentored by young alums, recent graduates who are also members of Generation Z and can offer the most relevant mentoring.” It’s a great way to learn what to expect from someone with whom you relate.

Again, make that connection with your alma mater. Join the alumni association from your high school, college, or university. Consider being a mentor or connecting with a recent grad who works at a business or in an industry you’re targeting.

Mentorship matters   

This is a challenging time, personally and professionally. Working solely remotely, while safe and helpful in some ways, can feel alienating and lonely. Make a commitment to your continued career advancement by pursuing mentorship.

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