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Want to Advance Your Career? Try Peer Mentoring

Updated Feb 12, 2024

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Mentorship is critical to personal development and growth and can provide valuable lessons to mentors and mentees. 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 in high schools and universities. However, many workplaces are beginning to adopt peer mentoring as an opportunity for workers to learn from each other on a more level playing field.

What is peer mentoring?

Peer mentoring is a mentorship method that encourages a give-and-take dynamic where two 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,” explained Virginia Fraser, former 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 with roughly the same experience you have, according to Sarah Callaghan, former SVP of marketing at Rah Rah.

“You face similar challenges in terms of the work at hand, office politics and … reporting lines,” Callaghan noted. “Your peer mentor truly understands your strains and obstacles and can help you face them in a positive and productive way.”

Fraser said peer mentorships develop organically from trust-based professional workplace relationships. This trust creates an open environment where colleagues feel comfortable offering feedback 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. Fraser noted that when this dynamic occurs, teams can establish a system of interpersonal checks and balances independent of the group leader.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Peer mentoring expands your knowledge and perspective with a give-and-take relationship that teaches you how to be a good mentor in various situations.

How to get the most out of peer mentoring

There are three crucial steps to help you get the most out of peer mentoring: finding the right mentor, working with them to create a healthy business relationship and asking for support when needed.

1. Find a co-worker to be your peer mentor.

Finding the right teammate is the first step. Fraser recommends considering someone who shares your work experience 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,” Fraser suggested.

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.

You should also seek out an honest peer mentor. Your mentor and you should trust each other and feel comfortable being candid. It’s also essential to have similar career goals.

“Peer mentorship needs to have a foundation of trust, respect and similar objectives,” Callaghan advised. “Use those commonalities as a way to introduce the concept of peer mentorship as a mutually beneficial activity.” 

2. Create a mutual vision in your peer mentoring relationship.

Agreeing on a mutual vision with your peer mentor means addressing specific issues: 

  • Set career goals for both parties. Define your purpose for the peer mentoring relationship, and set achievable business goals to align your priorities. Peer mentorship is a two-way street that must reflect both sides’ ambitions and needs. “The peer needs to take a step back and determine the overall vision of why they need a mentor,” explained 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.”
  • Identify knowledge and experience gaps. Arteaga recommended reviewing your career journey to identify knowledge or experience gaps. You may want to confront some of these gaps immediately, while others can be left on the back burner for now.
  • Set parameters and boundaries. Laura Francis, mentoring community director at MentorcliQ, says participants should set goals within the boundaries of each mentor’s abilities. “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,” Francis advised. Setting boundaries early will create a foundation of trust, enabling both teammates to push each other without crossing a line.
  • Agree on logistics and an agenda. You should also create a structured framework for your partnership’s logistics. “Align on goals, agree on a cadence and then set an agenda format ahead of time,” advised 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 in the peer mentoring relationship.

Your mentor and you must be there for each other whenever challenges and questions arise. Asking for help can be difficult for some people, but going to your peer mentor is essential when you run into workplace conflicts or face tough decisions, like whether you should take a career risk

“Reinforce success by asking for the necessary guidance from your mentor,” Arteaga advised. “Help reinforce your learning experience by actively engaging in role-playing onboarding exercises on a regular basis.”

Ensure you’re receptive to your mentor’s requests of you in this give-and-take relationship. It’s critical to be open to offering and accepting advice, guidance and suggestions and practicing leadership skills. You both should get the most benefit possible from this relationship. 

Career success depends on a willingness to learn. Because you and your peer mentor are likely at similar career levels, you may need to reach out to more experienced colleagues occasionally when your issues exceed the scope of your peer relationship’s knowledge and understanding.

TipTip

Use Slack to communicate quickly and easily with your mentor even if you work remotely, travel often or aren’t in the same office.

How does peer mentoring differ from other types of mentoring?

Peer mentoring is relatively easy and accessible. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship with two individuals acting as mentees and mentors. Other popular mentoring arrangements include traditional mentoring relationships and coaching. Here’s how they differ from peer mentoring:

  • Traditional mentoring relationships: Traditional mentoring relationships have a senior-junior dynamic. The mentor may enjoy or feel fulfilled by the relationship because they’re giving back. However, traditional mentorships focus on the mentee’s growth.
  • Coaching relationships: Coaching offers different benefits than peer mentoring. For example, instead of focusing on an individual’s growth and improvement, coaching focuses on solving specific workplace problems. During coaching sessions, colleagues might work together to brainstorm solutions to common issues or revamp current company practices. Career coaches are another coaching format that helps professionals hone in-demand career skills and polish resumes to land a great job.
  • Sponsors: A sponsor works with you for a shorter period and can offer growth initiatives, such as a new job or promotion. In contrast, a peer mentor can offer valuable insight, advice and support for the long term. They’re not tied to a job or role and can be in your life for the long term.

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 mentor:

  • Identify the goals you’d like a peer mentor to help you achieve.
  • Look to your existing network to identify connections worth pursuing.
  • Research the journeys your connections have taken to earn their current roles.
  • Understand a peer mentoring relationship’s purpose and parameters and use it wisely. 

Finding a peer mentor can be as simple as joining forces with a like-minded colleague. However, many businesses are helping build and support these relationships. 

According to research from Gallup, nearly 60 percent of chief human resources officers (CHROs) have mentoring and sponsorship programs to address diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Additionally, 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies provide mentoring programs. Such workplace programs are excellent ways to find peer mentors and build mutually beneficial workplace relationships. 

Still, only about 40 percent of employees report having a workplace mentor, and only 23 percent have a sponsor. Taking advantage of any available workplace opportunities is crucial to employee growth. 

TipTip

If employees don’t have access to official peer mentorship programs, they can pursue interoffice networking on their own or find a peer mentor via professional sites, LinkedIn and other resources.

Is peer mentoring right for you?

Peer mentoring is an excellent opportunity to learn from other professionals while sharing your knowledge. Instead of focusing solely on navigating your career path, you also get to foster someone else’s career dreams and ambitions. This relationship can spark motivation, fuel your confidence and help you open new doors. 

Peer mentoring is an accessible option for professionals, but not everyone takes advantage of it. Seek peer monitoring opportunities through your network or business to start your journey today.

Sammi Caramela contributed to this article.

Sean Peek
Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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