Informal mentorship

Jun 11, 2023

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You’re shaping the next generation of leaders, so it’s important to be available to junior staff who are looking for a mentor.

As I was preparing to write this, I decided to look up the definition of mentor as I felt my ideas of it were too simplified. In the end, the definition is quite simple: a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser, whereas mentorship is the guidance provided by a mentor. Not a lot of depth there, but straightforward.

The idea of “mentorship” has come up at different points in my career. Early in my career I would hear about mentorship, but never knew how to go about finding a mentor. But the idea piqued my interest as I didn’t have a personal network of family and friends who had work experience in the corporate world and felt a mentor would be advantageous to my career and personal growth. I never established a formal mentorship in those early years, but always kept an eye and ear out for the opportunity.

As I advanced in my career, mentorship was discussed within a more formal context. The firm I was employed at discussed a mentorship program, as they felt there was value there, but didn’t quite know how to get started. At the time, I was managing a team of junior staff. I provided guidance if they approached me, and I felt – and still feel – strongly that a mentor (who is not your boss) is valuable. This program never took off, but I’ve continued to workshop the best way to accomplish this “added value” for staff.

I’ve always questioned the idea of whether a formal mentorship based on assigned mentors would be beneficial. I believe the mentor/mentee relationship must start with a commonality, kindred morals, and trust, something that can’t be forced from an assigned relationship. In fact, trust is probably the most important aspect of the relationship. Junior staff are not only looking for someone who has followed a similar career path, but someone who has excelled in their career and can be trusted with the advice they give. This can only be accomplished through a more natural approach to the mentor/mentee relationship. Over the years, I’ve taken note of these best practices in accomplishing this. Here are some ideas for how to find a mentor:

  • Ask. Start by connecting with someone you admire who shares similar views and has the experience level you aspire to. Even try going outside your comfort zone and seeking out a mentor who may be in a different department, different company, etc. This can be accomplished through volunteerism and activity in social and industry run organizations where you can meet potential mentors.
  • Interview. When you do ask someone to be your mentor, it is important to “interview” them to ensure they are good fit regarding business experience, personality, and time commitment – do they have the bandwidth to meet with you quarterly at a minimum? Don’t be afraid to pivot if a mentor is not working out, or if you outgrow your current mentor as your career progresses.
  • Diversity. Don’t limit yourself to only leaders who look like you, or only leaders in the discipline of your current role. Diversity will provide a more well-rounded connection, and a better understanding on how to handle certain workplace situations and navigate a career progression path to leadership.

Now that I have more than 20 years of experience behind me, I have found the informal mentor approach has worked well. I keep a network of past and present colleagues and coworkers who I meet with regularly to discuss shared experiences and advice. This informal network of mentors has been the most beneficial to me and has provided the variety of opinions and personalities I’ve found to be advantageous to me and my career. In addition, I keep an open-door policy within my organization. It’s important to be available to junior staff who are looking for a mentor, either formal or informal. It’s easy to forget, but we’re shaping the next generation of leaders! 

Fran Curtis is director of digital solutions at Pennoni. Contact her at

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