You don’t have to have just one mentor. Here are 5 different types.

I’m lucky to have a large and broad network, internally and externally. Well, I say lucky. I work at it. I stay in touch, ping people to say hi, schedule lunches, arrange to meet up when I’m in the area, or they are in the area, ask how they are doing, and take an interest in their achievements and lives.

You don’t have to have your One And Only Mentor. Here are five different kinds of people who can provide helpful career perspectives.

Peer Mentors

I have a peer mentoring group from a leadership course I took, and we try and catch up roughly monthly, which is super helpful. This is the main place where I get the male perspective, as my network is pretty female-dominated.

There’s a certain amount of chit chat, but typically one or two of us have some pressing problem that they bring to the group to talk through and get some thoughts on. Pretty often we can make connections for one another, which is great.

Benefits:

1. Variety of perspectives.
2. Broadens network.

Watch out for:

1. May not always have the experience to give good advice.
2. Scheduling conflicts are hard.
3. Time management – one hour session, 6 people = 10 minutes each if you start on time.

Role Models

I have a mentor who has the job that is my medium-term goal – Staff Software Engineer. I try to catch up with her roughly monthly, although this can be hard with our timezones and schedules.

She’s amazing. She was the mentor who gave me this advice about confidence. In general, I talk to her in some amount of depth about what the 1-2 biggest immediate challenges I’m facing, and she gives me some insight, and some encouragement.

Benefits:

1. Inspiring: a relatable person, who career-wise is where I want to get but worry I won’t make it to. Getting to know her humanises her, and makes it seem more possible.
2. Less close, she’s also more likely to notice longer term trends – that I seem more confident lately, for example.
3. She overcame similar challenges, relatively recently.

Watch out for:

1. They are awesome because they have a lot going on – be prepared to do the work to schedule with them.
2. Time management: don’t ramble, give highlights.
3. Not all advice is right for you; it’s not a silver bullet.

Oracles

This is the far away mentor, like one of my mentors is just way beyond where I ever hope or expect to be. She is seriously amazing, and seriously successful. I catch up with her maybe quarterly, and I’m careful to be super respectful of her time (this quarter I know she’s extra busy and I’m pretty happy, so I will just send her a highlights email).

I ask her the high level questions and then use her answers to guide me for the next couple of months. When I was last choosing a project to work on, I ran my decision by her, and got her thoughts on that and some general advice for things to do to when starting on a new team. At the end of last quarter, I talked to her about things I was focusing on over the next few months, and how to demonstrate I’m at the next level. I’ve also had really helpful conversations with her about things like how to deal with engineer arguments, casual undermining, being ignored etc. She’s great at cutting to the core of the problem and giving me a heuristic to use.

Benefits:

1. Career visionary – great for the big picture.
2. Longer term trends. She was the first person to notice how much more confident I am since I moved to London, saying “I think you learned more last year than you realise… [key achievement], that took confidence”.
3. Can open other doors, and get you into programs (this is how I got my other mentor).

Watch out for:

1. Very little time, make sure you plan in advance: No emergencies.
2. Has no time to understand your day to day, so make your questions strategic.
3. Can be too removed from where you are.
4. Don’t ask them for too much: time or favours, or whatever.

Specialists

I’ve written before about my experiences with getting coaching for public speaking. This has been super helpful to me. A long time ago now, I also hired a professional to create my resume. Mentors give general advice, but sometimes we have a specific task that could benefit from specialist help. You can find that online, and you can find people who offer that as a service.

I think it’s often helpful to allocate money, not just goodwill, to building your confidence and skills.

Aside from that, there are people in my network who encourage me just on certain axes. For example, a friend who pings me CFPs (thanks Chiuki!), and who recommended me to speak at a conference (2 of my 6 talks this year wouldn’t have happened without her).

You don’t have to have just one mentor, you can have different people you turn to for different aspects of your career. And some of them you may also pay.

Benefits:

1. More in-depth expertise on specific things.

2. Fresh perspective.

Watch out for:

1. Lots of people offering various kinds of coaching online, make sure you determine who is a good fit for you (personal recommendations are good, or the writers of blogs you love).
2. Can lack context on your field.

Sponsors

A sponsor is someone who advocates for you and helps you get that next project or opportunity.

Whilst sometimes you can sign up to be mentored, that is not the case for sponsorship. Sponsors you have to find, and cultivate. Look to work more closely with the person who is most supportive of you, highlight your achievements to them (not in an annoying way), and if they do anything for you appreciate it. They used their reputation to help you, and that is an amazing gift.

Benefits:

1. Biggest career-impact.
2. Best way for women to get ahead.

Watch out for:

1. Resentment from peers.
2. Focus on bringing them your achievements, not your problems (if they are not also a mentor or friend).

When I think about the difference in my job now, versus my job a year ago, sponsors made all the difference. It’s transformational.

Cate Huston

Cate Huston has spent her career working on mobile technology and documenting everything she learns using WordPress. Now she combines the two as Automattic’s mobile lead. She co-curates Technically Speaking and admins the New-(ish) Manager Slack. You can find her on Twitter at @catehstn and at accidentlyincode.com.

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