Having a mentor is a must for many professionals today, and being a mentor is equally as beneficial. Playing both the mentor and mentee role in the same relationship, however, is the secret to success.
While a "student-teacher" dynamic might be the most common type of mentoring arrangement, peer mentoring, in which the mentor and mentee roles are less rigidly defined, allows both parties to profit from the deal.
Looking to get involved in a peer mentoring relationship? Here's everything you need to know.
What is peer mentoring?
Peer mentoring is a form of mentoring that encourages a give-and-take dynamic, where both people offer advice and learn from each other.
"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 Learning & Development. "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, said Sarah Callaghan, U.K. marketing manager at Insights.
"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 likely to be open to advice, because they know the other person genuinely wants to see them succeed. When this occurs, Fraser noted that teams can establish a system of interpersonal checks and balances that isn't dependent on the group leader.
How to benefit from peer mentoring
There are two important steps in peer mentoring: finding the right mentor and working with them to create a balanced relationship.
Find a teammate.
If you want to start benefiting from a peer mentorship, the first step is to find the right teammate. When you're looking for a peer mentor, consider someone who has a shared work experience but can offer a unique perspective on the everyday and long-term challenges you face, Fraser recommended. [Need a Mentor? Here's How to Ask]
"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 said.
Another quality to look for in a peer mentor is honesty. You and your mentor should both trust each other and feel comfortable being candid, Callaghan said. It's also important that both of 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."
Create a mutual vision.
You'll want to define your purpose for the relationship so both of your priorities are met. It's 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 marketing manager for Ingram Micro. "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 to your career to look like."
Arteaga recommended reviewing your career journey to identify any gaps you want to confront. Figure out which are most important to you now and which gaps you can put on the backburner for the time being.
Ask for proper guidance.
Don't be afraid to ask for help whenever you feel like you're in the dark. Your mentor is there for a reason.
"Reinforce success by asking for the necessary guidance from your mentor," said Arteaga. "Help reinforce your learning experience by actively engaging in role-playing onboarding exercises on a regular basis."
On the flip side, however, make sure you're just as receptive to their requests, since this is a give-and-take relationship.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.