A Career ChangerMentorship is key to career growth for a lot of reasons. Isaac spelled some of them out at the beginning of our chat. “There are a lot of unwritten rules when you’re navigating your career. A career is not a linear path. It’s a scavenger hunt because sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. Mentors help guide you along the way by giving you insight and context into some of those unwritten rules you can’t read in a book or a blog.” One of the most significant benefits of a trusted mentor (outside of access to their extensive network) is getting a better perspective about any situation you may be facing. Mentors can take a step back and help us identify our weak points or perhaps where we have some ownership in the outcome of a situation that may seem one-sided (the blame is all on someone else) to us. It’s hard to be objective when you’re emotionally invested. “That’s literally why they’re called blind spots. Sometimes you need somebody to give you a cold dose of reality. They can identify your strengths and also say you need to beef up areas A, B, and C to help you get to that next level.” Isaac knows this first hand because mentors played a critical role in a major career transition. Many of us have seen salespeople move to marketing, but we rarely see software engineers make the context switch. Isaac made this transition with the help of mentors. “The career path that I’ve had today started with an email. I was at Microsoft as a low-level engineer. I’d been with the company a couple of years. I got my degree in business and understood marketing to a degree. But my practical knowledge was in engineering. I always looked at marketing with those two contexts married together. I kept looking at Microsoft’s marketing and thinking, ‘I don’t get their marketing. I don’t understand it.’ Instead of thinking that was someone else’s problem, I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve got 30 shares in the company. I’m a stockholder. I’m going to voice my opinion.’ “I wrote an email and titled it ‘Microsoft’s Geek Image.’ I stated the problem, what happens if we don’t fix it, and a roadmap for fixing it. And I just fired it off to the CEO at the time, Steve Ballmer. I just wanted my voice heard, but once I hit send, I forgot about it. I got the point of frustration off my chest and moved on. Well, about a week later, there’s an email sitting in my inbox with a reply from Steve Ballmer titled, RE: Microsoft Geek Image. My heart skipped a beat. Am I going to get fired? “So I opened it up, and Steve Ballmer said, ‘Isaac, I think this is a very good idea.’ He CCs two other senior vice presidents and tells them to consider the idea. And that was it. But it was so exciting. My idea went up to the head of Microsoft, it was heard, and it was delegated. I was on cloud nine. And then I forgot about it. “A month later, I get an email from Christine Betts. She was the head of IT Pro Marketing at Microsoft at the time. And there’s a subject line that says FW: RE: RE: RE: RE: Microsoft’s Geek Image. “My email had been passed around the company. Long story short, Christine invited me to talk to her team about my idea. So here I was, from a small state school in New Mexico, presenting to these folks from all these prestigious business schools around the country. I pitched my idea, and some executives were impartial, and others were very engaged. I picked up on those who were engaged, and I followed up with them after the meeting. I asked them to mentor me and because I wanted to transition my career. “I proved that I had the curiosity. I proved that I had the initiative. It wasn’t a big risk that comes with saying yes to some random person. They started connecting me to other folks within the company, and soon enough, I was able to land a job in the Windows server team as a product manager and marketer. All of a sudden, a low-level engineer owned a $120 million business at Microsoft. One-hundred-twenty million is a rounding error for them, so it was an awesome way to cut my teeth. “I got a real-world MBA, learning how to scale at billion-dollar levels. I took on some really interesting ground-level initiatives with the private cloud initiative at Microsoft in 2008. That email changed my life.”
What To Look For in a MentorNot everyone is cut out for mentorship or mentoring. You’ll need to find someone you enjoy working with, and this includes the ability to continue communicating when criticism is delivered. “I’ve had a large number of fantastic mentors, but I’ve also had a couple of terrible ones too. Don’t choose a mentor who is mentoring because it’s all about them. Some people want to feel good about themselves and show people how smart they are. They want to tell war stories where they were the hero instead of guiding you. The messaging storybook framework that I always loved says a corporation or a company or a product shouldn’t be the hero of this story. The customer is the hero, and you’re trying to take them from point A to point B. “The same thing applies to mentorship. As a mentor, you should not be the hero of the story. You should not have somebody sitting across the table listening to you. You’re the guide. The mentee is the hero.” It’s also important not to exclude potential mentors because their politics don’t align with yours or the job title isn’t what you’re aiming for. If they have a high emotional IQ and can offer a different perspective, they may make a fabulous mentor. Look at their LinkedIn recommendations and ask people in your shared network for opinions. “EQ is essential. It’s such an underrated skill, and it’s not necessarily one that you can teach. I think you have to experience things to get that EQ. They need to be able to accurately read a situation so they can give the right advice. This means tailoring their advice, not just telling the mentee to do exactly what they did in their career. “It’s so important to have diverse points of view because when you’re a leader, and you’re trying to make a decision, you fall into the trap of having a one-track mind. Some leaders make their decision based on their own opinion. However, I think outstanding leaders take in multiple points of view. “Consider executives who work in different industries or even departments when you look for a mentor. I’ve worked with engineering, product, marketing, and sales mentors. I have a broader view of how the corporate machine works as a result. When I make a decision, I can understand the ripple effects from different points of view. Where you find a mentor will vary. There are a lot of apps now dedicated to connecting people to mentors. There’s linked in. There are bosses you may consider. You have options, and don’t be afraid to be proactive. “Put yourself out there, and don’t be afraid to look like a fool. Admit what you do and don’t know. Approach a mentorship relationship with honesty, and you can’t go wrong.”
Remember: It’s a Big CommitmentWhen you refer someone to work at your company, you’re putting your own reputation on the line. Whether we like it or not, the people we choose to promote and associate with impacts our reputation. If we recommend someone prone to not showing up on time (or at all), it’s a bad look. Mentorship is a risk-reward relationship. The mentor isn’t really gaining anything by taking on a mentee. They are donating time and resources into a very one-sided relationship. So naturally, they want to make sure their energy is going into someone dedicated to using their guidance to improve. If you’re unwilling to make changes and try new things, you’re wasting a mentor’s time. “It’s a lot like an interview. They’re looking to understand why they should invest their most valuable asset, which is time. You’ve got to make that case. The keyword we keep using here is curiosity – show them why you’re curious, why you’re passionate. Tell them why you’re going to take their advice and apply it practically. “As a mentor, it’s pretty easy to say yes when you see the curiosity and the tenacity of the person on the other side of the table. Helping people with drive is a no-brainer.” So why should people consider being a mentor in return? “I’ve had a very unorthodox career path. I was hacking through the jungle a little bit, trying to find my path. Other folks were willing to guide me. I want to help others as they’re hacking through the jungle or even show them the path that’s there. For me, that’s why paying it forward is so important. I know how hard it was for me to make these changes, and I don’t want anybody to have to go through that themselves.”
For more on finding or being a mentor, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.