Mentors You Didn’t Even Know You Had (Who Can Help You Go Further, Faster)

You can never have too many mentors in your career, right? That’s why professional women in need of solutions to their career struggles can get sound advice from people they might have overlooked, who may already be in their inner social or professional circles.

Many executive women are turning to a trusted friend-turned-mentor – or “friendtor” – or a peer-to-peer mastermind group that meets to tackle mutual career challenges together.

Here’s how some women have developed these mentoring friendships – and how you can get started on yours today.

Friendtor: A trusted pal you can brainstorm with

The friendtor relationship emerged from the idea that one of the best people you can have in your corner is an honest, trustworthy friend who can also offer career advice and support.

But unlike a traditional mentor relationship, a friendtor-ship is a mutually beneficial relationship. Both parties offer and receive career advice.

A friendtor can “give you real-time feedback and solutions to specific issues and uncover new opportunities and ideas that you might not get from reading books and listening to podcasts,” writes Jenny Blake in her book, Pivot: The Only Move that Matters is Your Next One.

For example, a mentor might urge you to take a lucrative job in another state without a second thought, while a friendtor – who knows you have young children in school, making a move difficult – could help you work through the pros and cons. A friendtor could give you advice tailored to you and your specific values and concerns.

As you evaluate your friendships, try to think of someone who’s got good mentoring abilities. Ask yourself:

  • Who energizes and inspires me?
  • Who’s a good listener?
  • Who’s in a similar position professionally?

Once you identify someone, there are all sorts of creative ways to develop your friendtor-ship. You might decide to meet with one or two peers and alternate weeks. Or you may choose a friendtor who lives a distance away and will only be able to talk by phone or FaceTime.

The key thing is to choose someone who’s as serious about her career as you are about yours. And that you begin the friendtorship with positivity, staying open to feedback, suggestions and criticisms. And provide some structure for your conversations.

Blake sets up 30-30-30s with her friendtors:

  • 30 minutes of catchup with each other,
  • 30 minutes brainstorming for her, and
  • 30 minutes for her friendtor.

“Whenever my friend Elisa and I need extra motivation and accountability during busy times,” says Blake, “we start an email thread for the month, then reply at the end of each day with a list of work completed and what we plan to tackle the following day.”

Mastermind Group: Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 Fortune The Most Powerful Women Washington, D.C., USA MPW HIGH SCHOOL NOTEBOOK MENTORING Presented By ANN INC. and Gap International MPW Mentors share career advice with high school seniors. She started as an intern, rose to top executive and now advises Starbucks, DreamWorks Animation, Groupon and Estee Lauder. A business-world star shares her lessons of life and career success. Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments Interviewer: Pattie Sellers, Fortune Photograph by Stephanie Merriken / Fortune Most Powerful Women
Flickr photograph by Stephanie Merriken

Many professional women belong to a weekly or monthly mastermind group of highly motivated professionals with a common goal: moving their career to a higher level. A mastermind group, often comprised of women who work together, is designed to help you tackle career challenges using the collective intelligence of women who are – or have been – in similar places in their career.

Find people who “are at your level, with whom you can have an even exchange of ideas, feedback, experiences and introductions to others,” writes Blake. “Even if you are not in the same industry … these groups can provide a great source of accountability and support.”

Content marketing strategist Becky Mollenkamp started a mastermind group to grow her business. They meet once a week, with each member getting 10 minutes to use however she wants. “I typically spend a few minutes sharing a pain point in my business planning and then use the remaining time for feedback,” she said.

At each meeting, they set two goals for the next week. In between, they encourage each other via social media, including a Facebook group.

“By interacting and sharing your challenges,” writes Stephanie Burns in Forbes. “it’s almost certain that someone in your mastermind will have a solution for you.”

By forging one of these hybrid mentorships, you’ll stay focused on your career goals as you gain insight, advice, connections and resources – and maybe put out some feelers, should you want to explore career options.

And that’s what friendtors (and mastermind groups) are for.