- Peer mentoring relaxes the traditionally rigid lines between mentor and mentee for a more even playing field.
- To get the most out of your peer mentoring relationship, you need to set clear goals and guidelines.
- You can find the right peer mentor by considering your goals and researching your workplace connections.
- This article is for aspiring mentors and mentees who want to learn what peer mentoring entails and how to get the most out of the relationship.
Mentorship is a key element in personal development and growth and can provide valuable lessons to both the mentor and the mentee. Traditional mentorships work under a teacher-student dynamic, with the mentor providing the benefit of experience and wisdom to the mentee. In peer mentoring, the mentor and mentee roles are less rigidly defined, allowing both parties to gain from the arrangement.
Peer mentoring has long been a tradition in academic environments, particularly high schools and universities, but many workplaces are beginning to adopt it as an opportunity for workers to learn from each other on a more level playing field.
What is peer mentoring?
Peer mentoring is a form of mentoring that encourages a give-and-take dynamic, where both employees offer advice, learn from each other, and experience professional development.
“In a peer-mentoring relationship, each person involved can be both teacher and student, and both parties are empowered to shape their learning context,” said Virginia Fraser, U.S. marketing manager at Insights. “Professionals receive the support they need from a peer while getting the perspective from a mentor.”
While your peer mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be at your exact job level, there is a distinct advantage to mentoring and being mentored by a person who has roughly the same amount of experience you have, according to Sarah Callaghan, senior vice president of marketing at Rah Rah.
“You face similar challenges in terms of the work at hand, office politics and … reporting lines,” Callaghan said. “Your peer mentor truly understands your strains and obstacles, and can help you face them in a positive and productive way.”
Fraser said that peer mentorships develop organically from trust-based professional workplace relationships. This trust creates an open environment where colleagues feel comfortable offering feedback to one another about behavior, attitude or performance.
In turn, recipients of this feedback are more open to advice, because they know the other person genuinely wants to see them succeed. When this occurs, Fraser noted, teams can establish a system of interpersonal checks and balances that isn’t dependent on the group leader.
Key takeaway: Peer mentoring is a great way to expand your knowledge and perspective by learning from someone at a similar job level.
How to get the most out of peer mentoring
There are three important steps in peer mentoring: finding the right mentor, working with them to create a balanced relationship, and asking for support when you need it.
1. Find a co-worker.
If you want to benefit from a peer mentorship, the first step is finding the right teammate to pair up with. Fraser recommended considering someone who shares work experience with you but can offer a unique perspective on the everyday and long-term challenges you face.
“Often, it’s helpful to find someone who has a very distinctive background and view … to offer an increased level of exposure to diversity of thought,” she said.
You should consider how your experiences match up or differ and use that to your advantage. Remember that this relationship is meant to push and develop you in your role, so don’t look for someone whose life or career experiences are identical to yours.
Another quality to look for in a peer mentor is honesty. You and your mentor should trust each other and feel comfortable being candid, Callaghan said. It’s also important that you have similar career goals.
“Peer mentorship needs to have a foundation of trust, respect and similar objectives,” Callaghan said. “Use those commonalities as a way to introduce the concept of peer mentorship as a mutually beneficial activity.”
2. Create a mutual vision.
Define your purpose for the relationship and set business goals you can achieve so that both your priorities and your mentor’s are met. Peer mentorship is a two-way street that must reflect both sides’ goals.
“The peer needs to take a step back and determine the overall vision of why they need a mentor,” said Shirley Arteaga, senior product marketing manager at VMware. “Creating a future vision of what you would like to accomplish in the next three to five years is the first step. This is not the time to think small. Rather, think large in terms of what you would like your career to look like.”
Arteaga recommended reviewing your career journey to identify any gaps you want to confront. Figure out which gaps are most important to you now and which ones you can put on the back burner for the time being.
Laura Francis, chief knowledge officer at MentorcliQ, suggested participants sit down together to set goals within the boundaries of what each mentor can give.
“Set goals that address your learning or development concern, but that also take into account what the mentor can actually help you with, and set boundaries so that you both know what you can talk about and what needs to be off-limits,” she said.
Setting these boundaries at the beginning of the relationship will create a foundation of trust, enabling both teammates to push each other without crossing the line. You should also create a structured framework for the logistics of your partnership.
“Align on goals, agree on a cadence, and then set an agenda format ahead of time,” said career coach Dexter Zhuang. “Doing so lets both parties know exactly what to expect and enables conversations to get deeper, generating more value.”
3. Ask for proper guidance.
Don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or even someone else for help whenever you feel like you’re in the dark. One of the most common limitations of peer mentorships is that both parties are at roughly the same level in their careers, so you may need to seek guidance or assistance from more experienced colleagues at times.
You should also make a point of asking your mentor for help if you run into issues or conflicts in your career. Remember, your mentor is there for a reason.
“Reinforce success by asking for the necessary guidance from your mentor,” Arteaga said. “Help reinforce your learning experience by actively engaging in role-playing onboarding exercises on a regular basis.”
Make sure you’re just as receptive to your mentor’s requests of you, since this is a give-and-take relationship. The most important part of your mentoring relationship is being open to both offering and accepting advice, guidance and suggestions, as well as practicing leadership skills. Otherwise, neither teammate will get anything out of the relationship.
“To get the most out of a peer mentorship, the most important thing is that you hustle and do the work,” said Paul Kim, founder of FinanceFox. “Show your mentor that you are worth mentoring.”
Did you know? According to Together, a platform that facilitates employee mentorship programs, 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer a mentoring program to encourage employees to learn from their peers.
How does peer mentoring differ from other types of mentoring?
According to Art of Mentoring, peer mentoring is often more accessible to potential mentees due to the increased availability of peers as opposed to experienced mentors. However, there are other kinds of mentoring, such as traditional mentoring, where the relationship has a senior to low-level dynamic. While the mentor may also benefit slightly, a traditional mentorship is usually intended to focus on the growth of one person and provides one-way benefits.
In addition to traditional mentoring, coaching offers different benefits than peer mentoring. According to the Academy to Innovate HR, instead of focusing on the growth of an individual, coaching involves two or more colleagues working together to solve problems in the workplace by reflecting and improving on current practices.
Tip: For easy communication with your mentor, check out these pointers for using Slack at work.
How to find the right peer mentor
Peer mentoring can lead to valuable relationships where both parties benefit. Take these steps to find the right peer mentor:
- Identify the goals you’d like a mentor to help you achieve.
- Look to your existing network to see if there are connections worth pursuing.
- Research the journeys your connections have taken to earn the roles they hold now.
- Understand the purpose of a peer mentor and know the difference compared to a sponsor or other kinds of mentors. According to NPR, a sponsor can be a boss or recruiter who can offer rewards on a short-term basis, while a mentor can offer advice. However, a peer mentor is not tied to a job or role and can be in your life for the long term.
According to a previous study by Olivet Nazarene University, 61% of respondents said their relationship with a mentor developed naturally, while 25% said they were approached by their mentor and 14% said they asked their mentor for advice.
The study also found that of those seeking mentors, employees on the lower end of their company were the most likely to have mentors. Approximately 57% said they were junior-level employees, 35% said they were midlevel, and just 8% said they were senior-level workers with a mentor.
Researchers noted that 82% of respondents said their mentors would formally identify themselves as such, and 66% of respondents said their mentor-mentee relationship has continued across multiple jobs.
Kiely Kuligowski, Sammi Caramela, Nicole Fallon and Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.