There’s almost no better feeling in the world than helping someone achieve a career goal or overcome an obstacle.

Share story

The long Thanksgiving weekend and time spent with family and friends got me thinking about how thankful I am for so many things.

If I were to recite a list, it would include everything from being thankful for living in one of the most pristine and scenic places in the world (Seattle!) to working with amazing colleagues in a challenging job. Yet looking back at my life, one of the things I will always be the most thankful for is the time I have spent as a career mentor.

My personal passion is helping younger generations become the business leaders of tomorrow and infusing their leadership style with what I like to call the “7 Cs” — compassion, curiosity, character, collaboration, courage, candor and connectional intelligence.

I’ve been a volunteer mentor for the University of Washington Foster School of Business for over a decade now and it never ceases to amaze me how much satisfaction it provides.

I became a volunteer mentor because of the struggles I had gone through in my own career. Early in my career, I sought out mentors several times and was turned down because, back then, the male managers told me they didn’t think it would be appropriate to mentor a young woman.

My dilemma? There were no females in management positions where I worked in the medical technology industry. With no female leaders to turn to for advice and potential male mentors turning down my requests, I was forced to quietly and secretly study the behaviors of successful leaders from afar. I would incorporate into my own career what I had learned from watching others, but I never felt like I had anyone I could turn to for advice.

Thankfully, times are changing (albeit slowly). There are now more females in management positions, organizations have begun implementing career mentoring programs and many universities (like the UW) have created mentoring programs for undergrads and post-graduate students that are staffed by community volunteers.

The problem? These programs need volunteers who are willing to be mentors, yet many people are reluctant to volunteer because they don’t think they have the skills to be a mentor. I’ve spoken with a lot of people who ended up being fabulous mentors (and loving it!), but their first response to me was, “Oh, I don’t think I could do that. I wouldn’t even know what to say or do.”

I would argue that almost anyone can become a mentor to help another person in his or her career. Some characteristics that are helpful are good listening skills, the ability to ask questions to explore situations and being comfortable providing honest, constructive feedback. It can also be helpful to have broad experience to discuss a wide range of business topics or the expertise to dive deep into a specific topic.

If the Thanksgiving weekend got you thinking about everything you’re thankful for, I hope you’ll consider becoming a volunteer career mentor through a university, your local school district, chamber of commerce or a church group.

When someone feels lost or alone in their career or is struggling to overcome an obstacle, having a mentor to speak with can make all the difference in the world. Sometimes all they need is someone to believe in them, encourage them and reassure them that everything is going to be OK.

Become a career mentor … because there’s almost no better feeling in the world than helping someone achieve a career goal or overcome an obstacle they didn’t think they could.

Lisa Quast is a certified executive coach, and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at lquast@careerwomaninc.com.