Here's one of the best pieces of career advice: Get a mentor!
The support and feedback that you get from a mentor is invaluable. You don't get this kind of value from any other source of career input: whether you read career blog posts, watch Youtube videos or follow people on Twitter, nothing is as useful as a mentor who you can actually talk to.
But when people say "mentor", they aren't always talking about the same thing.
There are two kinds of mentors. Let's break it down.
If your mentor is one of your co-workers, then they're what I call a job mentor.
At some companies, when you join the team, they assign you to a mentor. That mentor's task is to get you acquainted with how things work at the company, and serve as someone that you can turn to with questions and concerns.
If there's no official mentorship program at your workplace, then you should try to get a job mentor by approaching someone yourself. It's good to do this early on.
Ideally, find a mentor who is not your direct boss. This is because the mentor relationship is different than the boss-subordinate relationship. The mentor is the person you can go to when the concern or question that you have is actually about your relationship with your boss.
If you have a mentor outside of your workplace, then you have a different kind of mentor: a career mentor.
A career mentor is someone you can talk to when you're looking for big-picture career advice. It's someone you can ask about switching jobs and deciding on your next move.
Having a career mentor is good for the questions that you wouldn't ask your job mentor. Maybe you have serious concerns about your workplace and you want an outside opinion. Maybe your employer isn't investing into your career development because they don't want you to go get a better job elsewhere. Then you need an external perspective.
Let's be real for a minute. Not all employers care about your career development. Most just care about the here and now: the productivity that you're providing to the company's bottom line at the present moment. So your employer isn't typically the best place to get good career advice for the longer term.
How do you find a career mentor? Approach someone who is a few years ahead of you in their career, and who is doing the kind of work that you'd like to be doing. Ask them about their career path and how they got where they are. Most people are very eager to share their work experiences.
Ideally, you need at least one mentor of each kind.
You need someone to "on the inside" in your company so that you can decode the company culture and figure out the unwritten "this is how we do things here" rules.
But you also need an outside perspective who can call out the group-think of your workplace.
Do you have a story of how a mentor helped you in your career? Share it in the comments.