Karen Klein wrote her first contract when she was 11.
It laid out how much allowance she would earn for completing certain chores each week. When she got her parents to sign it, she told them that she was going to be a lawyer when she grew up.
A decade and a half later, her mom brought out that piece of paper again—this time as a gift for Karen’s law school graduation.
Since then, Karen has written and reviewed a lot more contracts, as well as merger and acquisition deals, IPOs, and internal documents responding to regulatory bodies, including as the current Chief Legal Officer at global legal and compliance technology company Relativity.
While she set out on the path to be a lawyer of her own volition—“I was really good at arguing, and it got me into a lot of trouble at school, so maybe that’s where it came from!” she says, smiling—her career hasn’t been entirely self-directed. Karen attributes a lot of her success to having people believe in her and invest in her career, and we sat down with her to hear more about how she found those mentors and how she pays back their guidance by being a mentor herself.
In-House and On a Team
After finishing law school, Karen started her career at a law firm. That’s where she found her first mentor in one of the partners she worked for.
“I spent 90% of my time working for him, and he was a mentor before I even knew what a mentor was,” she says. “He not only assigned me great work, but he took the extra time to put things in context. After a meeting or a call, he’d sit and talk with me about what had happened, why the client asked the things that they did, why they were concerned, and ask for my perspective.”
Karen credits that mentor with helping her level up from being a person who executes well on tasks to being a person who understands strategically what needs to be done and why it matters. That knowledge set her up well for her next career step.
Even before joining the firm, Karen knew she’d one day like to move in-house. A self-proclaimed “deal junkie,” her favorite projects were ones that had her learn a lot about a client and their business in order to prepare a deal for them. “But then you wouldn’t hear from the client till the next deal, and I was like, ‘Well, I learned all about their business—I want to apply those things now,’” she says.
Being in-house would also let Karen fulfill what she describes as an inherited drive to build a business. “My parents owned and ran a construction company, and it stuck with me. I saw the stress that owning your own business created, but that mentality of building something and being part of something spoke to me,” she says. “The pride in helping to build something, that was enduring, and influenced me in ways I didn’t appreciate at the time.”
So when Larry—who was in-house counsel at a Chicago-based tech company, her then-firm’s largest client—called Karen and asked her if she’d like to join him there, she immediately said yes, though she did tell him that she knew little to nothing about technology.
“‘That’s okay,’” Karen remembers him saying. “‘You’re smart, you understand contracts and liability. We can teach you the tech part.’”
And teach her he did. That first move led to Karen spending 17 years in travel tech, including at places like Orbitz, Kayak, HotelTonight. Other general counsel she worked with became additional mentors, helping her come up the curve on regulatory issues and how to build a team.
A Full Circle Moment
When Relativity came calling, Karen had joined Ticketmaster only a year before, and was planning to stay there for the remainder of her career. It was pre-pandemic, and she was happy with the challenges and the teams she was building. She took a meeting with Relativity’s CEO just to get to know him as someone influential in the Chicago tech community that Karen so valued, and that was the beginning of her new job at Relativity.
“Once you meet Mike, you want to work with Mike,” says Karen, laughing. “It had this pull of nostalgia, that I could round out my career coming back to a Chicago software company, which is how I started out in-house. There were all these exciting things in store for the company, and it seemed right.”
Karen’s actual transition took a little longer—the pandemic had started, and she didn’t want to leave her team in its first few chaotic months—but she officially joined Relativity a year and a half ago, and now serves as its Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary.
3 Lessons and 4 Tips for Mentorship
Reflecting on her career, Karen says she’s learned three main lessons from all the mentors that have guided her:
- How to embrace feedback. “I have some rough edges, and I had a CEO say to me once, ‘You know, Karen, you’re really effective, but you could be even more effective if…’” she says. “And that made me feel inspired to actually do better.”
- How to get outside of her comfort zone. Multiple mentors have told Karen she was ready to learn something new long before she knew that herself. “It was inspiring to me that he was willing to invite me along,” she says of one general counsel she worked for who gave her the opportunity to sit second chair while he navigated antitrust issues for the company.
- How to have faith in herself. “Everyone has to do something for the first time at some point,” says Karen of her fear of making the leap to senior positions like General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer. “Having people who put that faith and trust in me really helped me make leaps in my career I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to make.”
Though she’s now reached an apex in her career, Karen isn’t above seeking out new mentors—including her peers, like other executives at Relativity—and is certainly excited about being able to pay forward all that she’s learned. Her top tips for making the most of a mentorship relationship include:
- Build relationships everywhere. Finding mentors is all about having a connection with people, says Karen. “Trust lets you be comfortable reaching out and asking for that bit of advice, or to bounce ideas off of someone,” she says. “Whether you jump on the phone, or Slack someone, you want a connection that isn’t 100% about the transactional aspects of the work.”
- Agree on the goal. “Establish upfront what you both want from the relationship. What are you seeking from it? What will be in it for them?” she says. “Sometimes people are looking for a place to vent, but that’s not really mentorship.”
- Treat mentorship like a project. That means come prepared with agendas for every meeting, advises Karen. “I’m a list person, so I’ve written down lists of things I wanted some feedback on, or questions I had,” she says. “Of course, leave time for relationship building, to talk about how someone’s life is going. But have specific things that you’re hoping to get out of even a more casual conversation.”
- Circle back and share successes. “One of the biggest satisfactions mentors get is seeing career progressions,” says Karen. “When you make the next step or leap in your career, or something good happens, have a conversation with your mentor to say, ‘Hey, I really appreciate the time you spent with me; here’s what came of it.’ It gives your mentor their own career satisfaction and continual feedback we all want and need.”
January is National Mentorship Month— the perfect time to focus on growing and building important relationships with mentors that will positively affect your professional career.
Research shows that mentorship greatly improves career outcomes by providing professional guidance, skill development, and support through major work and life transitions.
We asked some of our partner companies to tell us about the mentorship opportunities they offer. If you’re ready to unleash your full potential by joining an impactful mentoring program, keep reading to hear what they said. (Plus, they’re all hiring—check out their open jobs under each entry!)
“Clarus Commerce has been running a mentorship program for the last 9 years. Here is how it works:
- Senior leaders nominate mentors within their department.
- The program lasts for about 6 months.
- Those who are interested in being mentored provide 6 topics that they’d like to discuss in mentoring meetings, which help us pair people up. Mentoring topics should focus on topics such as: leadership, how to manage up, presentation skills, communication, work life balance, etc.
- We leverage our Insights and Discovery profiles that each employee has to help better understand each other’s communication styles and help facilitate great discussions.”
Learn more about Clarus Commerce here.
“PwC professionals are provided learning opportunities, supportive career growth and unique mentoring opportunities to help them to fulfill their potential. The firm has several programs that include intentional mentorship and focus on building representation, inclusion and development of their people. For example, the firm launched Enrich, an experience designed to support the development and leadership skills of high-potential female and racially and ethnically diverse senior managers and directors. There is also Thrive, an innovative two-year experience for Black and Latinx entry-level new joiners that helps lay the foundation for a successful career through culture workshops, networking, connectivity and leadership engagement.”
Learn more about PwC here.
“At CallRail we have a program called Connection Point where individual contributors are paired with members of the Senior Leadership Team. Each pair is together for a full quarter and are given topics for their meetings, topics range from; career stories, situational advice and feedback, etc. At the conclusion of the quarter the individual contributors that have been in the program have a round table lunch with the CEO. This has been a great way to foster deeper connections within the organization, demystify senior leadership and help individuals see a path forward.”
Learn more about CallRail here.
“Automattic’s Design Mentoring program is a mutually beneficial partnership providing development opportunities for all. Mentees pick up new skills or get guidance with a project. Mentors practice communication, leadership, and knowledge sharing. The organization benefits from more engaged, productive employees, who have increased job satisfaction because mentorship encourages meaningful work that aligns personal and professional goals. In our distributed work environment, mentoring provides a human connection and a trusted space to grow. Tapping into all of the design experience and skill that our organization has is a powerful way to grow individually … and collectively."
Learn more about Automattic here.
“Relativity Women of the Workplace (RelWoW) Mentorship Circles is a group mentoring program that brings together women at varying stages in their careers and from every department at Relativity. The program sessions are curated by our team and include materials, talking points and action items to help create open dialogue, build connections and develop skills for personal and professional development. The program runs around six months, and includes a kickoff, mid-point event exclusive to program members, and a closing celebration. Relativity also plans to pilot a new mentoring program with broader reach across the company in 2022.”
—Yvonne Frazier – Executive Assistant
Learn more about Relativity here.
“CDW Business Resource Groups are a key source for networking and mentoring opportunities. In 2019, our BeU BRG launched a formal mentoring program through their Project IMPACT initiative aimed at recruiting, retaining and promoting Black coworkers. It has been a successful program that has brought coworkers together across departments and roles, sharing new experiences and perspectives for both mentors and mentees.”
Learn more about CDW here.
“BRIDGE is Kinesso's reverse mentoring program bringing together senior leaders and future leaders globally. Our program pairs employees with Kinesso's Senior Leadership Team, but rather than leadership mentoring employees, our employees mentor our senior leaders!
Through mentorship programs like Bridge, Kinesso's brings together employees across generations, cultures, territories, and job levels. Giving our future leaders the opportunity to share fresh perspectives and innovative ideas allows our current leaders to look at inclusion, capabilities, collaboration, and connectivity from a completely different lens.
"(Bridge) is immensely important for many reasons, but most of all, it shows that no matter where you are in your career, you should never stop learning and growing."
—Arun Kumar, CEO at Kinesso and Global Chief Data & Marketing Technology Officer at IPG”
For more information on Kinesso, please visit Kinesso.com/careers.
Learn more about Kinesso here.
"At SoundCloud, one of our core behaviors is to embrace the challenge- but that doesn’t mean that you go at it alone. We encourage SoundClouders to ask for help and to give help to those who it need along the way. Over the past few years we have offered a mentorship program that connects rising SoundClouders with under-represented identities (gender/race/ethnicity) with more senior level employees around topics of professional branding and career growth, influencing and emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. In 2022, we aim to launch 2 cohorts of mentorship/coaching targeting different ranks of women of color."
Learn more about SoundCloud here.
“BlackRock has nine employee networks and four professional networks – all of which offer mentorship programs or opportunities.
Our employee networks: Mosaic; Ability & Allies Network; Asian, Middle Eastern & Allies Professional Network; Black Professionals & Allies Network; Families & Allies Network; Out & Allies Network; SOMOS Latinx & Allies Network; and Women's Initiative & Allies Network.
Our professional networks: Analyst Alley, Associates Arena, Global Administrative Initiative Network, and VP Village.”
Learn more about BlackRock here.
“Having both formal and informal mentors is crucial to elevate any career. At Lockheed Martin, mentoring is the development of meaningful relationships to transfer valuable knowledge and understanding from one person to another. It is a personal enhancement strategy through which one person willingly facilitates the development of another by sharing known resources, expertise, values, skills, perspectives, attitudes, and proficiencies. Our mentoring program is tailored to the individual employee to give them the right tools, the right resources, at the right time.”
Learn more about Lockheed Martin here.
“Autodesk is a place where you can shape your future and help others do the same. The Autodesk Mentorship Program empowers employees to take ownership of their careers and build on a mindset of learning from each other by offering mentorship opportunities for professional and personal development, peer-to-peer learning, and focused networking. The program helps you identify your goals and recommends matches for a mentor or mentee to help you accomplish them. Through the Autodesk Mentorship Program, employees can make connections, grow their skills, explore opportunities and build their career paths.”
Learn more about Autodesk here.
“Cummins Women’s Empowerment Network (WEN) focuses on a mission to create the right environment by advocating for equal representation, empowering women, and fostering inclusion for every employee in all work assignments at all levels.
As part of the work to achieve such a mission, WEN focuses on mentoring and development initiatives designed to foster mentoring relationships, broaden employee networks, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth. Initiatives include Speed Mentoring Sessions, Personal Development & Networking Events and WEN Mentoring Circles Program. This annual Mentoring Circles Program provides a monthly opportunity for exempt employees to participate in a forum for open discussion, explore new perspectives and learn from peers and leaders.
Within the Europe region we also have the Cummins Business Services mentoring program which is open to all employees at all levels.”
Learn more about Cummins here.
“Meet a pairing in Millennium’s Mentorship Program: Cari Smalley, Co-Head HR Business Partners, Americas, and Jasmin Zirino, Operations Specialist. They say, "The mentorship program is a fantastic experience for anyone who wishes to join. It allows you to meet someone you do not directly work with and grow your network. It is invaluable to have the ability to work through solutions to problems, use one another as sounding boards, and occasionally just blow off steam in a supportive space."”
Learn more about Millennium Management here.
“Mentorship is about stepping out of our comfort zone, taking charge and acting upon our ambitions, opening doors for others and learning more about the skills that make our own success.
Expedia Group has a volunteer-led program allowing every employee to have an equal chance to grow and succeed. The program has brought together a group of 1,700 Expedians from all over the world who believe in skills development and the power to elevate others while creating Inclusion at Expedia Group. Through a self-service marketplace platform and organized meetup sessions, EG’s Mentoring Program enables all employees to ask for help and embrace their own identity while belonging to a community that thrives through diversity.”
Learn more about Expedia Group here.
“At Equinix, our employee connection networks (EECNs) play an important role in bringing together communities for learning and growth opportunities, including mentoring. While mentees gain much from mentors, we often find that mentors also discover growth opportunities.
By asking these questions, we instill best practices for a successful mentorship:
What does each party want from this experience? How often to meet? Confidentiality: What’s shareable and what isn’t?
Feedback: What are the expectations around giving and receiving feedback?
And remember, a mentoring relationship is like any other relationship—it takes time to develop. Build trust by getting to know one another.”
Learn more about Equinix here.
"At Unstoppable, it is our commitment to having a crypto forward culture. Every new team member is matched with a Crypto Buddy who acts as their first point of contact outside of their direct team, guides them down the crypto rabbit hole, and welcomes them into Unstoppable’s culture. As a fully remote company, making cross-team collaboration a key part of onboarding strengthens our community. This is also an opportunity for the buddy to hone their mentoring and teaching skills. When the new hire has been with the company for six months, they will then become a mentor themselves, driving a continuous cycle of mentorship."
Learn more about Unstoppable Domains here.
“Mentoring@Uber connects employees who are passionate about helping and up-skilling others with those who are seeking guidance and development. It is a way of connecting and sharing challenges on a mutual and reliable relationship —and trying to get another perspective from an unbiased source. It’s also an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, or collaborate together to come up with a solution to professional problems that arise. People with mentors perform better, advance in their careers faster, and even maintain more work-life balance. And mentors benefit, too.”
Learn more about Uber here.
“MongoDB has offered two pilot mentorship programs to support underrepresented groups. One program focused on promising first-line managers and ICs from underrepresented groups and the other focused on providing executive mentorship to women & nonbinary leaders at the director level and up. In both programs, participants were matched with a mentor with who they regularly met to discuss career planning and personal development. Feedback from both pilots was hugely positive with participants indicating that they received helpful support from their mentors. Members from our ERGs have also served as mentors to our summer class of interns.”
Learn more about MongoDB here.
“Our Black and Latinx ERG, Array, offers a mentorship program pairing individual contributors within Array to C-Suite and VP level mentors, including PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada. Dedicated to leveling the playing field for Black and Latinx employees, the program is structured so everyone can learn from each other. Mentees are paired with mentors from within or outside their department for a nine-month term, which includes check-ins, themed discussions, and monthly one-on-ones. Bri Solorzano, an Array mentee, explained that this mentorship program allows her to build bonds with higher level executives, and share her personal experiences as a Latinx employee and individual contributor at PagerDuty.”
Learn more about PagerDuty here.
T. Rowe Price
“Due to the highly collaborative culture at T. Rowe Price, the firm understands the value of relationships and the opportunities strong mentorship can provide. It is committed to not only developing talent within its walls but developing the next generation of talent within communities.
The firm will launch a new global mentorship program in 2022, which will offer associates the opportunity to connect with colleagues, agnostic of location or business unit. T. Rowe Price also provides leadership development to youth in the community through strategic partnerships such as the Baltimore Ravens Leadership Institute, a program aimed at high school students.”
Learn more about T. Rowe Price here.
“At Pluralsight, we take growth seriously. Which is why we offer a six-month long mentorship program for all of our employees. Our mentorship program is facilitated bi-annually by Women@Pluralsight, one of our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and aims to empower participants to recognize their full potential. We intentionally pair mentors and mentees to create connections that encourage the development of skills crucial to success, and foster personal and professional growth. In our most recent cycle we paired nearly 200 participants and have plans to continue growing that number. Because at Pluralsight, your growth is our growth, and vice versa.”
Learn more about Pluralsight here.
“At Yelp, we value and actively foster an environment focused on learning and development. There are a variety of mentorship opportunities available, such as:
- New Hire Mentors — new employees are paired with a team mentor to help them onboard and get settled in.
- Engineering Mentorship Program — any IC engineer can sign up to become or get a mentor within Yelp Engineering.
- Manager Mentorship Program — new engineering managers or proto-managers can get support from experienced managers at Yelp.
- Awesome Women in Engineering — This employee resource group’s mentorship program helps AWE members find mentors or mentee within the group.”
Learn more about Yelp here.
“At Turo, we help each other. We collaborate. We challenge each other. And we create the tools to succeed independently and as a team.
When you join Turo engineering, you’re assigned a mentor, a reliable, single point-of-contact to help you set up your environment, navigate the codebase, and acclimate to Turo’s culture and workplace. Mentors have a great responsibility to ensure new Turists feel welcome, offer encouragement, and provide advice and guidance on complex matters of systems and architecture. Engineers who demonstrate our core values of efficiency, pioneering, and being down-to-earth and supportive have an opportunity to mentor new engineers. Mentoring engineers is a great way to build the skills necessary to further your career at Turo.”
“Mentoring has allowed me to deepen my technical understanding and team connections.”
– Lauren Kroner, Senior Software Engineer
Learn more about Turo here.
“In the US, Moody’s has an intergenerational mentoring program, our Pride BRG members coach youth in the Queer Coders program. Our Women’s, Veterans, and Multicultural BRGs have a variety of mentoring programs, including summer intern mentorship, our Asian Leadership Initiative and our ConectaMos Hispanic/Latinx 1:1 mentoring program. Our Women’s Group Mentoring Program just celebrated its 10th anniversary with over 800 mentor-mentee participants over 10 years. In EMEA, Moody’s offers Power to Act reverse mentoring, mentoring through the Women’s and Pride BRGs, and a parental leave mentoring scheme. In APAC, Moody’s has various cross-BRG and cross-department mentoring programs.”
Learn more about Moody’s here.
“At Condé Nast, we are focused on providing positive career development opportunities. We recently launched a Global Mentorship Program as an option for employees to connect and learn from one another. For six months, employees participate as a mentor and/or mentee to develop their careers, grow their skills and guide one another. The structured framework creates and sustains an inclusive experience that empowers everyone’s growth.
The MentorcliQ platform we use lets us create mentoring pairs based on their interests, experiences and personality compatibility. To date we have had 473 active mentorship pairs.”
Learn more about Condé Nast here.
“Thornburg Small Group Mentor Program was created to bring employees of various tenures and experience levels together in order to cultivate organic relationships and opportunities for influence in a low-pressure environment.
The program consists of six small groups comprised of one mentor and three to six mentees. These groups meet for one hour every month for six months. The series concludes with a virtual event where all participants from every group can meet and share takeaways from their experiences.
- Small group format (not one-on-one)
- Low cost, low maintenance, light structure
- Flexibility for mentors to lead through individual style"
Learn more about Thornburg here.
“Women@Okta’s upcoming mentorship program:
W@Okta’s vision for the year is to empower, develop and support women-identified employees in order to ultimately improve gender diversity at Okta. One of our key methods is to empower the next generation of female leadership by providing a platform for women to connect and learn from one another through group and 1:1 mentorship opportunities. Our Professional Development branch is launching a pilot mentorship program with an initial cohort of 32 mentors and mentees.
Goals: Career, personal and organizational
Share your needs, desires, goals, and challenges; career choice and mobility.
Explore people, resources, information, expertise you need – but don’t have – to speed up, enhance, and ensure your results.”
—Professional Development Lead Christina Gallagher (Senior Sales Development Representative) & Partnerships Co-Lead Sarah Schiff (Senior Manager, Customer First Recruiting)
Learn more about Okta here.
A Conversation with Neena Naidu, Director of Software Engineering at Autodesk
Neena Naidu's favorite metaphor for understanding the importance of different perspectives comes from medicine.
"If a doctor recommends a big surgery to you, you go and look at different surgeons and get different feedback, right?" she says. "You don't just take the one thing that somebody said. You're investing time and money. In a similar way, [with your career], find a couple of people to run your situation by and ask for different opinions, because those are different options, and you'll see which fits best with the way you want to go."
Neena is currently a Director of Software Engineering at Autodesk, and she credits her long and successful career in software in part to the many mentors that have guided her along the way.
We sat down with her to hear about how she sought out those relationships, what they've taught her, and how she seeks to pay them forward now—as well as what tips she has for other underrepresented talent in tech looking to make the most out of mentorship.
Finding Her Ambition and Embracing Growth
When she was growing up, Neena wasn't obsessed with a particular subject or career. She didn't even really like school all that much, though her parents would have loved it if she did.
"I had this happy-go-lucky time," she explains of her high school years. When it came to college majors, she knew she wanted hers to be in some kind of engineering, but by the time she got around to signing up, she had missed some of the selection tests for several engineering majors.
"Computer science was still open, so that's why I studied that!" says Neena, smiling.
But while she chose her major by default, she soon grew to love it—and to recognize how powerful it could be to be inspired by peers and mentors along the way.
"There was a pivotal point between finishing 12th grade and my first bachelor's where my mindset shifted to learning more," Neena explains. "I wasn't focused, and then I met people who were going to the U.S. to study." Her peers inspired her to take the GRE and apply to do a master's in the U.S.
She wasn't shocked when she got in, but she thinks some people back home probably were. "I was a very social kid growing up, and I think it comes as a surprise to a lot of the folks that I've known through my childhood that I'm doing what I'm doing," Neena says. "But things can change in life, and it's never too late to do what you want to do."
Embracing Mentorship as a Tool to Build a Career
Studying in the U.S. was one thing. Figuring out how to work here long-term was another. Neena knew that she would need to rely on building relationships in order to secure her career path. She started by reaching out to her U.S. counterparts at the company she'd worked at in India before moving to the States for her master's and by talking to the counselors at her university.
"I started asking, 'Are there any opportunities for me?'" remembers Neena. "And through that process, I was able to find an internship."
That wasn't a new muscle for Neena, who had talked to her manager in India about wanting to leave the company even when others wouldn't have breathed a word to their supervisor for fear of being fired. "He had created an environment as a leader where it was clear that people have choices, people have passions, and it's okay if they want to pursue those passions," she says. "We'd formed a relationship and it felt natural to open up and talk to him about what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do."
Neena now considers that manager to be her first work mentor, and she learned a couple key lessons from him:
- Pressure can be managed. "Looking at a mentor and seeing how they behave under pressure, it's almost like a parent, right? You watch people, you learn something from them," says Neena, who says she benefited from watching her manager never really lose his cool, even in very tense moments.
- Always ask for the next connection. Neena isn't naturally shy, and her first helpful mentorship relationship inspired her to pursue the next ones. "I'd question my supervisor and managers saying, 'Hey, who would you recommend? I'm looking at doing X, Y, and Z,' and they'd think through their network and say, 'Okay, this person has done something similar, maybe you should connect with him or her.'"
Finding Her Next Challenge at Autodesk
The lessons that had helped Neena land her first internship in the States also helped her turn it into her first full time role. And what she learned at that job—both about work itself as well as about what she wanted to pursue more of—helped her find her next few roles. She's been a technical program manager, a senior software engineer, a business analyst, and a consultant working with big clients like Cisco and Disney, among other things, always looking for opportunities to work directly with technologists, to deliver projects that meet user needs, and to keep learning.
During COVID, Neena got to thinking about what she wanted next in her career, and she realized she wanted a chance to be more strategic and to manage a bigger book of business. She reached out to her mentors and coaches and started fielding opportunities—including one from Autodesk.
"Learning about the role, it was an opportunity to create my own team, to set a precedent for that process, and to take in the existing culture and influence it," she says. "It really was very exciting for me. I like to do things a bit out of the box, to work with different people and find the best solution. Especially at a people-paced organization where I can be who I am and still learn and grow in my new role."
Passing It On: 6 Tips on Mentorship
Even when she was pursuing it, Neena didn't always recognize mentorship as such a powerful force in her life. "I probably didn't have a name for it early on," she says. "I was just finding myself in situations where I needed some feedback, and I'd find a colleague or a friend. Soon enough, that became a necessary part of my own voice."
Neena remembers working for a woman—her manager's manager at the time—who shared with Neena that mentors had been pivotal to her own career journey. "From then, I knew it was a constant thing that I had to put time and energy into," says Neena.
But formalizing how she sought out advice didn't really change the mechanics of doing it. There's no one right way to be a mentee, says Neena, who adds that sometimes she'll check in with mentors every six months and other times every two weeks.
"I do think it's the mentee's responsibility to reach out to the mentor. I always take it as an active responsibility on my part," she says.
If you're ready to make the most of mentorship in your career, Neena recommends the following:
- Get clear on the rules of engagement. Are conversations confidential? What topics are off-limits, if any?
- Define the agenda ahead of time. There are different types of mentors: ones from whom you want to extract information and ones who are just there to listen. Ones who are ready to help problem solve and ones who are there to set a strategy with you. What kind of relationship is this? If it changes often, what's on the agenda for this specific meeting?
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. Now that she's a mentor herself, Neena doesn't take on more than 3-5 regular mentees at a given time, though she's always open for one-off conversations on specific subjects. On the mentee side, looking for multiple mentors is a good idea, but don't over-commit to more relationships than you can successfully manage. Do keep in mind that some relationships will come to a natural end. "It's okay to circulate through mentors," says Neena.
- Be strategic. When looking for a mentor, Neena suggests an exercise. Start by writing down your goals, then identify the gaps you have that would keep you from getting there. With those gaps, look for people with influence in your organization who could help coach you on filling them.
- Don't feel guilty. Making an ask of a busy person can feel stressful. But leaders want to help, says Neena. "If you reach out to five people, four of them will probably say, 'Sure, of course, I can find 15 minutes to talk to you,'" says Neena, who adds that making the request personal, like by highlighting shared backgrounds, goes a long way.
- Embrace its impact. "We all have the tendency to get stuck in our own mindsets," says Neena. "A mentor can be a great change agent for you. And mentorship isn't always just for career building—it's for your own personal growth as well."
Pleasantly Dealing with Unpleasant People
The workplace is a microcosm of society. Everyday we encounter people who are different from us and in the office you'll find people with different working styles, levels of emotional intelligence, communication skills, values, and perspectives.
So it should come as no surprise that, when working in close quarters with others day in and day out, we may find ourselves having to deal with difficult people.
Have you had to deal with an unpleasant coworker?
Whether it's a toxic colleague, difficult team, or horrible boss, finding techniques to help you pleasantly deal with unpleasantries in the office is key to bringing more harmony to your nine-to-five.
To tackle this topic we hosted an interactive chat with Limor Bergman Gross, a mentor and coach who has been leading tech teams for over 15 years. She is the Director of Mentorship at PowerToFly and is passionate about helping women succeed in the tech industry.
"You can be a delicious, ripe peach and there will still be people in the world that hate peaches."
Limor answered questions from the PowerToFly community about how to deal with unpleasant people in the workplace and here are some of her top tips.
Strategies for dealing with toxic people at work
Dealing with toxic people at work can be stressful and exhausting. While you can't change the behavior of others you can find ways to make working with them easier.
- Find an internal ally. An ally is someone in the company that you trust and can turn to to discuss the challenges you face. It's important to find someone who you feel comfortable talking to about the toxicity you are dealing with so it doesn't build up inside. You may find that you are not alone and that others may be having the same issues with terrible people or teams.
- Shift your focus. Pour your energy into what you can control—your work. What we focus on grows, so by shifting your focus away from unpleasant people you may be able to minimize the impact the toxicity has on you. If possible, see if you can get involved on another project or different product to distance yourself from the problem.
- Get a mentor. An external mentor or coach can bring a different perspective and provide sound advice for dealing with difficult people and situations. Often we feel that our challenges are unique and we are alone in our suffering, however, a mentor can show us that we all face similar obstacles in the workplace at some point in time and by tapping into their wealth of experience they can help come up with creative solutions. If you are looking for a mentor check out the PowerToFly's Mentorship Program.
What to do when your boss is the jerk
Almost everyone has had a bad boss at some time, whether they were difficult and challenging or just plain mean. While the situation may make you feel like the only solution is to quit, there are a few techniques you can try to improve your relationship.
- Understand their behavior. While trying to understand your boss' unfavorable antics might sound odd, this is a way to figure out how to control what you can—your own actions. Understanding your boss' motivations, values, and triggers allows you to adapt to their style, which may minimize conflict.
- Who does your boss like? Figure out who gets along with your boss. Why does your boss like them? What are they doing that works? Learn and try to implement a different strategy. This could be a tool that leads to a better working relationship.
- Talk to them. The best way to understand your boss is to talk to them directly about their working style and their expectations. Some people are micromanagers, some like high-level information, some like low-level information, and some are data-driven. There are so many different kinds of people and by knowing what your boss needs to succeed, you can better support them and often they will appreciate you for that. Talking to them is also an opportunity to shed light on any tension that you may be feeling. See our tips below for navigating difficult conversations.
- Move to a different team or department. If the relationship cannot be improved, changing managers might be a solution. Talk to your HR department about any internal opportunities.
People don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If all else fails, the best way to deal with a bad boss may be to quit. If you have put in the time and effort to improve your situation and you still find yourself stressed and exhausted it might be time to find a new job. There's only so much you can do. Value your time and mental health and find a workplace that values you.
Confronting coworkers who steal your thunder
Whether it's intentional or an honest mistake, a coworker taking credit for your work is a shocking and infuriating experience. It's time to stand up for yourself. While it may be uncomfortable, it's necessary to ensure your contributions don't go unnoticed.
- Have a heart to heart. If a coworker or boss has taken credit for your work, it's probably time to have a one-on-one conversation with them. First, make them aware of the situation, as it may have been unintentional. If it was done on purpose, let them know that it is unacceptable to steal your work.
- Involve a manager. If you are uncomfortable with direct confrontation or if you have had a conversation and they continue to take credit, reach out to your direct manager and HR business partner to inform them of the situation.
- Document your work. Having evidence is your best defense when sticking up for yourself in this situation. Document your project contributions from the start and make sure your involvement is visible to others. Not only does this help your cause but you will also have advocates who can come to your defense if it happens again.
Tips for navigating difficult conversations
Difficult conversations are well...difficult. The truth is, facing difficult situations and having hard conversations is part of any job. While most people avoid conflict, the most effective way to resolve issues at work is to talk them out. Being assertive and sticking up for yourself takes practice. It isn't easy to confront coworkers, but the more you do it the more confident you will become in advocating for yourself.
- Assume positive intent. Most people probably aren't trying to sabotage you and you may be dealing with a misunderstanding. Try to see things from the other person's point of view before confronting them.
- Keep the conversation professional and non-emotional. Tone and choice of words are important when having a difficult conversation. Use "I" statements to express yourself, this can help keep defenses down: I feel like you took credit for my work. I feel disrespected when the team excludes me.
- Offer a solution. The end goal of a difficult conversation is to come to a solution, not to play the blame game. Give them a chance to explain themselves and ask questions to understand why they did what they did. Try to come to a solution together to avoid a similar situation happening again.
Being respected vs being liked
If you're afraid that hard conversations will make you unlikeable, think again. While confronting others may not come across as nice, worry less about likability and focus more on being respected and appreciated.
- Focus on the value you bring. By trying to please others and avoid conflict you may find yourself becoming a doormat in toxic environments. Instead of wanting to be liked, focus on how you can bring value to your team and organization. When you're collaborative and bring value to others, they will likely appreciate it.
- Nip it in the bud. If a coworker or boss is being difficult or crosses a line, talk with them directly. If that doesn't work, go to their superior to ensure this person understands your boundaries.
- Not everyone likes juicy peaches. You can't control who likes you. Some people will and some people won't. While we all want to be liked, sometimes it's easier to accept that we can't be everyone's cup of tea...and that's ok.
Need more help navigating your unpleasant work situation? Check out PowerToFly's mentorship services here!