A networking contact is someone you can exchange information, advice, and professional connections with. They’re usually individuals with whom you have some tie with (i.e. mutual friends, workplaces, alma maters) – and can play valuable roles in your professional growth. 

Mentoring relationships, however, are a bit more formalized than networking contacts. A mentor is a committed professional relationship that is dedicated to helping your career grow. They’re a person who has had experiences you have yet to acquire, but may strive to achieve one day. They can offer hindsight from their own experiences and insight on your future and, above all else, want to help you reach your goals. 

Chances are, your mentor is someone you already know! Oftentimes our best mentors are current or former colleagues; someone who has already worked with you in a professional setting and understands your strengths, weaknesses, and goals. And because colleagues already have a sense of who you are personally and professionally, they make for ideal contacts to turn to when striving for professional growth. 

Cultivating a current professional relationship is also a much easier way to develop a mentor/mentee bond rather than forcing this connection. Many people think mentorships are something you have to work to find, when in reality your ideal mentor could be sitting just a desk or two over. 

Another misconception of mentorships is that your mentor is someone much older than you. Sure, Mr. Miyagi may have a few decades on the Karate Kid, but your mentor could easily be similar in age to you. 

According to TED, this mentor is known as your “copilot,” or your best work bud. They’re a colleague who can talk through your tasks at work and offer great advice. Because they share a workplace with you, they’re likely easier to communicate with and can empathize more easily when you need to process professional hardships, or celebrate professional milestones. 

Maureen Horsten, chief revenue officer of LaSalle Network, a staffing and professional services firm headquartered in Chicago, agrees that there are many advantages to a colleague-based mentorship. 

“The feedback is specific to the company and will work more effectively because the mentor will understand the leadership or management dynamic and best practices for working with them,” Horsten said. “They also can see firsthand how the employee works and their daily habits to provide feedback in areas that weren't planned to be discussed.”

If you’re interested in developing a mentor/mentee relationship, consider the colleagues you see on a daily basis. Who knows? The coworker you talk shop with over lunch every day may be the mentor you’ve been looking for.

About the Author

Maura Mazurowski

Maura Mazurowski is the Community Coordinator bringing together students and alumni to the Longwood Professional Communities. She also produced Season 2 of the Longwood podcast, Day After Graduation." Her work has been published in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Daily Progress, Virginia Mercury, and more.

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