Welcome to the Mentorship Cocktail Party


You’ve arrived: The never-ending, ultra chic, global cocktail party.

Wherever and whenever you are, whatever you’re looking for, welcome! Have a drink—litchi juice, a martini, chocolate milk, whatever you prefer. And there’s food too—samosas and teriyaki and divinity… the choices are unlimited.

Look around. There’s your CEO, your former intern (you’ve been wondering where she is), your future teammate. Hear the clinking of glass, china and silver, the laughter, and, most important, the murmur and swell of conversation, some of it earnest, all of it cordial.

You, like many others before, after, and simultaneously, have come to the Ivy Exec network, full of members and Mentors, though really, everyone present can be described as both.

When setting up a mentoring session during an advisement call, my clients are curious about how the process works. How do we define mentoring? Who are our mentors? Why do they become mentors? And what can one expect to gain through a mentoring conversation. On calls, I always answer specifically in terms of the experience at Ivy Exec, but ultimately, the same answers apply to the world of mentoring at large, which includes peer advisors, mentors, and proteges.

So what is the essence of mentoring? In today’s global, professional context, I define mentoring as an authentic connection on the basis of professional common ground, often virtually and sometimes, wonderfully, in person.

Now for the who. Our mentors at Ivy Exec are intelligent, multi-talented, entrepreneurial, fun, interested and interesting people with 15 or more years’ work experience to their names. This means that if you arrive in our network as a student, these people will probably be a lot more senior than you, but if you show up already at the C-suite level yourself, these same people will be your peers.

The idea of being always on the mentorship spectrum is even truer if you are networking through LinkedIn, your school, or your professional association. You will be a mentor in one context, a protege in another, and everyone comes into the process with unique strengths, challenges, and stories.

I find that my clients often become intimidated at the prospect of networking or preparing to talk with a mentor, equating it somewhere between the first day of school and getting on stage. This is when I usually bring in the analogy of the cocktail party. Picture, I tell my clients, your mentor, or your peer contact, at the same event. This is an interesting person, someone you gravitate toward naturally because you share common interests.

And why? Why do our mentors, or anyone else for that matter, take on the task? I love answering this question to clients, because it’s my chance to take a big-sisterly tone.

Imagine, I tell them, that you had a new colleague, maybe new to the area too, and he or she reached out to you for some guidance. I bet you’d want to help them out if you could, right? I’m going to assume that you, like my clients, answered yes. And it’s the same with mentors. Most people, when they know what they have to contribute and what the other person needs, want to help.

Mentoring, whether in a formalized capacity through us, or more casually, by virtue of being a senior colleague, fellow alum, or family friend, offers people the chance to give back, sharing the secrets and insights someone passed down, or those they wish someone had passed down, early on in their careers. Connecting with a protege also offers the mentor a chance for his/her story to be heard, an experience irresistible to most of us regardless of age or seniority.

Finally, the value of mentoring. We generally think of the benefits as enjoyed by the protege, who gains support, concrete career tips, and, often, direction and inspiration. But we forget that, when on the receiving end, we too contribute, presenting a new connection, an interesting story, and a fresh perspective, inviting our mentors to see their industry through our eyes and think about their own careers through a different lens. Choosing to mentor you in particular is your mentor’s way of saying that he/she has the desire to know you.

And here we are, back amidst the cordially networking cocktail crowd. This afternoon you may find yourself listening to the story of an entrepreneur, and tonight you may be encouraging an MBA graduate who is much like the you of 8 years ago. As a mentor, a peer, and a protege, welcome.

About the Author

Lilly-Marie Lamar is a career advisor for Ivy Exec. She provided career advice to college students and professionals in the U.S. and abroad, and was a Fulbright scholar. Lilly-Marie has a degree in education from Columbia University.