You Don’t Need a Mentor. You Need a Job Group Chat. Traditional mentors aren’t gone. They’re just hard to find.

When I need to get clarity on a work call or find peace amid career drama that keeps me up at 3 a.m., I don’t turn to a wise elder with a wealth of experience. Instead, I rely on a much more relatable and accessible group of advisors: my three group chats with other working women my age. This might seem unconventional—even just a decade ago, when I was starting my career, the norm was to seek out a mentor decades older who could guide me along their path to success. Some might even call it naive—I can imagine someone rolling their eyes and quipping about “the blind leading the blind.” However, engaging with my peers has given me the tools to navigate my career with more clarity and forward-thinking than traditional advice ever did.

Research shows that people learn just as much from a horizontal mentoring network—that is, seeking advice from peers and friends—and creative professionals and those from marginalized backgrounds can gain even more from this approach. We can find valuable mentors in more accessible places: in a lively Slack channel, over the cubicle wall, or alongside one another on a work project. Shelbi Jones, a marketing manager in New York, highlights that her most helpful work connections have been with colleagues lower down the company hierarchy. 

“I used to idolize the most accomplished and interesting people in the organization, thinking, ‘I want to align with them,’” she said. “But time and again, it was my peers who helped me and got me my next job. When I started my career, I wanted a mentor to help me navigate it, but it was my peers who did that.”

Vertical mentoring structures, where guidance flows from senior to junior staff, still have their merits, according to Mia Keinanen, now a consultant for Russell Reynolds Associates. In her teenage years, Keinanen found invaluable support from peers in her modern dance company, helping her navigate the dance world. While a traditional mentor might have been more fitting for studying established forms like Balanchine ballet, Keinanen and her friends were part of a new, radical movement that required them to rely on each other. She stays in touch with these dancers to this day, and their job insights have remained valuable despite many pursuing different careers.

Keinanen believes that, in 2024, all fields are or should be interdisciplinary. Having mentors from various areas of knowledge can lead to new and unique innovations in any field. However, traditional vertical mentoring can be challenging to find, especially as many navigate new or evolving career fields. Moreover, some people in company networks or alumni groups might not genuinely have their mentees’ best interests at heart, seeking instead to retain employees for their own business interests or to advance their personal goals.

“In some jobs, it’s almost like people are collecting data to use against you,” Jones remarked, emphasizing the importance of a clearly defined circle of trust. In her peer mentor groups, the connection is approachable and frequent, often through emails, texts, or quick FaceTimes, fostering a deeper and, frankly, more enjoyable relationship. 

“It’s a cadence,” Jones said. “Our touchpoints are just a lot more accessible.” 

Peer mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial, as two people working through a problem together can both grow from the experience. According to Erin Mayhood, CEO of Mentor Collective, the advice seeker feels supported and helped, while the advice giver builds confidence and problem-solving skills.

“When working with a mentee who has a specific problem, you either remember a solution or seek one out, increasing your own competence,” Mayhood said. “We see it all the time. They really grow.” 

When texting with my industry peers, we share our experiences to find paths tailored to our career aspirations. Each group offers different insights, from writing goals to freelance frustrations to managerial perspectives. While we sometimes share jokes or vent about annoying coworkers, we primarily remind each other that we’re in this together, finding our answers in a changing world.

Keinanen echoes this sentiment in her peer mentoring relationships, noting that being on the same journey as someone creates a bond. Her regular calls with her two dance friends cover a range of topics from family life to career troubles, each discussion contributing to their greater commitment to each other.

“As the saying goes, ‘You’re not only on the same page. You’re in the same book with the person,’” Keinanen said. “And peer-to-peer, you can really get to that. You’re on all the pages: marriage, work, and everything else in life.”  

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