In the past three decades, professional careers have shifted from linear and stable to boundary-less and unpredictable. Technology also is affecting everyone’s careers, with the rapid pace of change requiring workers to have the flexibility to adapt and learn quickly.
In this environment, negotiating transitions is an essential career skill, and workers must create stability and certainty for themselves.
Relationships are one of the most valuable resources for career development, and mentors are a key source of stability in helping people successfully adapt to career challenges. Research on mentoring shows that protégés have higher salaries, are promoted faster, and are more satisfied with their careers.
Mentor-protégé relationships are especially crucial in the turbulent, changing career environment of the 21st century. As electronic media are increasingly used in both personal (e.g., Facebook) and professional (e.g., LinkedIn) contexts, young professionals can benefit greatly from knowing how to develop rapport online.
Shifting Career Models
Research on mentoring in the field of management has been concentrated in the area of careers, a person’s emerging set of work experiences. In the past decade, theories of careers have shifted. Careers went from a traditional linear job path within one organization, to boundary-less and protean career models. Today’s careers emphasize personal growth and development across multiple positions. Career models have shifted as organizations have changed to flatter structures with more team-based and independent work. The potential to advance up status hierarchies might not exist, and individuals no longer expect to have a lifelong career in one organization.
In these new careers, a focus on self-directed careers managed by the person has replaced traditional formulas for success. Careers are now highly relational and often driven by personal interest and work challenges. Even within traditional careers, the pairing of individual and relational components is critical. A person’s growth and advancement is attributed to both individual competencies and the skill of accessing others.
As career theory has evolved, the thinking around mentoring relationships also has changed. Traditionally, the definition of a mentor and protégé relationship is a junior person paired with a senior, more experienced colleague within the same organization. Mentors provide vocational support, including sponsorship, coaching, and providing feedback. They also provide psychosocial support, including serving as a role model, counseling, and friendship. Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of mentoring for protégés, such as increased promotions, compensation, job satisfaction, self-esteem, and reduced stress, among others.
Going From One to Many
One mentor is not enough in today’s career environment. All professionals should create and maintain a developmental network—a set of people at different levels both within and outside of your workplace that assists you in your personal and professional development. E-mentoring is not only a viable tool to help you do this, but it also could be your most effective one.
Here are five actions that will help protégés and mentors use e-mentoring effectively. These are not sequential, nor can they be applied all at once. Pick and choose the ones that apply to your particular needs and circumstances.
E-mentoring expands the opportunities for protégés to develop relationships with mentors who are geographically dispersed, and enables both parties to choose when to interact. This flexibility accommodates busy executives who want to develop and foster such mentoring relationships, but who need to do so across time zones, travel schedules, and with limited time commitments. More than 800 million people use Facebook to maintain personal relationships already, and recent figures show record traffic for social networking sites, including Twitter and LinkedIn.
Find other ways to connect
Research shows that talking on the phone or meeting face to face was associated with important outcomes for both mentor and protégé. Individuals create and maintain online relationships in which social support and information exchange takes place. However, these relationships might not be as close as face-to-face relationships. Blended communication, the combination of email or social networking with telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings, might be an ideal and realistic way for individuals to create and sustain their developmental networks in the wired 21st century world.
Begin cultivating e-mentors even before entering the workforce
Pairing students with working professionals provides a forum for colleges and universities to engage alumni and community leaders. Through e-mentoring, mentors found value in building a one-on-one relationship and reported feeling more connected to the university. Mentors often want to provide support beyond classroom content and engage in conversations about career paths, job searching, and work–life balance. Students gain a better understanding of the current career context and the importance of cultivating a network of developmental support.
My experience suggests there’s an upside to trying to touch base at least once a month. It doesn’t always have to be a long session—just a “here’s what’s been going on” email, a 15-minute phone call, or quick Skype to check in. Any of these will help keep each party engaged in the process.
Find common ground
Mentors and protégés who feel they are similar to one another receive/provide more support and feel more satisfied. We live in a multimedia world, so use it to find common ground. Even if you are located in different places, if you can connect over the phone or via Skype. If you are traveling and can meet face to face, getting to know each other in person really helps establish rapport. Even if all your communication thereafter is via email/Facebook that human connection makes all the difference.