Imagine…You just had an invaluable meeting with one of your mentors. You feel really stuck at work, unsure whether to take that great promotion or follow your passion with the startup that asked you to join their team. Your mentor went through a similar dilemma, and their advice was fresh and honest.
Now, what if we told you that your mentor was not a senior leader in your field, a professor or your boss? Rather, your mentor was your peer—someone at the same level as you in their career. But, you ask, how can a peer be a mentor, and why would I even want a peer mentor?
Here are four reasons why you should have a peer mentor and some key steps to building a peer mentoring relationship that will last a lifetime:
1. They’re at the same stage of life you are
Mentors are the people you can turn to when decision-making gets tough. The advantage of peers is that only they understand what it means to be a Twitter-obsessed Millennial in a recession economy in ways that senior mentors cannot.
Maybe you’re both experiencing unemployment after college, or trying to figure out how to manage your online brand to reflect both your personal and professional life. Because your peers are confronting these same dilemmas, they’re equipped to empathize with the factors influencing your decision-making process.
2. They’re fluent in the new way of working
We live in an age of rapidly evolving technology and social media, which has impacted the way we work and live. Your peers are more likely to be excited about embracing these new technologies and work habits, whereas you might have to convince older generations of their value. Can Pinterest really leverage your brand capital? Who knows—but a peer mentor will be more likely to encourage your exploration of these emerging tools.
3. They’re safe sounding boards
Voicing your ideas, doubts and insecurities to someone who is at the top of their field is valuable, but it’s also incredibly intimidating. Sometimes it’s best to start with someone whose prestige or seniority won’t cause you to hold back. If you don’t feel comfortable pitching your idea to an older mentor, work through your thoughts with your peer mentor first.
4. Your peers will be the leaders of tomorrow
Your classmates, fellow interns and coworkers may be at the bottom of the totem pole today, but years down the road, you’ll all be at the peak of your career. Forming meaningful relationships today means you won’t have to reconnect for advice, collaboration or a favor later on.
So, how should you go about finding a peer mentor?
Start by thinking about the different communities you’re a part of and look for potential peer mentors in colleagues, friends, classmates and members of associations in your field.
When selecting a peer mentor, be sure to ask yourself what kinds of skills, knowledge and experience they have that would be valuable to you—and, conversely, what you have to share with them. If you have specific expectations, be upfront about these at the outset.
Lastly, remember that peer mentorship is about creating a genuine and sustained relationship for mutual growth, not just networking through someone. There is a distinction between the two.
Mentorship is ultimately about collaboration, sharing ideas, asking for feedback and not being afraid to ask for help or advice. Whether you are mentored by your peer or the CEO of your company, don’t forget to be open, honest and giving in return.
Special thanks to Zoe Schlag for her peer mentorship and contributions to this article.