Having spent the majority of my career in talent acquisition, I'm frequently asked for career advice--and the topic of pursuing an MBA comes up on a regular occasion. It's always a tough conversation for me. 

Earning an MBA is a significant commitment that's not a realistic option for everyone. Degrees from top programs can set you back $100,000 or more. Well, just don't go to a top school then, right? That's not always the best alternative. There can be a huge starting-salary discrepancy between MBAs from top-tier programs and those from the latter. When you factor in the time commitment, debt, and opportunity costs, there might be a better option for you out there--depending on your goals. 

Before you take the plunge and invest in an MBA, give mentorship a try. When it comes to career ambitions such as advancement, professional development, building your network, and finding meaningful work, finding the right mentor can be just as valuable as an MBA. 

I've been fortunate enough to have had access to great mentors. Without a doubt, they have helped accelerate my career and I've accomplished many of the ambitions above because of their guidance.

After years of leveraging mentor relationships, I've identified three areas where mentorship has its advantages:

1. Considering options you would have normally overlooked

I got my undergraduate degree in marketing and professional sales. Back then, the sexy thing to do was pharmaceutical or medical device sales. I'll never know, because when I graduated, we were in the worst recession since the Great Depression. The closest job I could land was in car sales.

Feeling unfulfilled, I bounced around a few different sales positions. One day, a mentor reached out with a corporate HR opportunity. I was skeptical.

At the time, I was in consulting and sold recruiting services. HR was the closest thing to a nemesis I had. They were the gatekeepers between me and the hiring managers I wanted to work with. And let's be real, "HR" isn't the sexiest title. 

I took the interview out of respect for my mentor--and I'm so glad I did. I'm in a career now that I love, with a trajectory I couldn't be more excited about. 

If I'd stuck to my major, who knows where I'd be? Luckily, I had someone who cared and could look beyond my formal education and titles to help me find meaningful work. 

It's tough to make choices in your early 20s that could potentially shape the remainder of your career. Mentors can provide guidance and wisdom to help you circumvent the learning curve.

2. Avoiding career-limiting mistakes and deviations

You don't know what you don't know. Every day, there are small choices and opportunities that could change and potentially jeopardize your career. Rather than going at it alone, mentors can be a sounding board to help you navigate the decision-tree of life. 

Early in my career, I was faced with the choice to either stay in the car business or try something entirely different. Although I was young and didn't have a lot to lose, I was still nervous. I was comfortable in the automotive industry.

Fortunately, I had a boss who could see that something was missing. Without their encouragement and support, I don't know if I would have ever left. Nothing against the car business--it taught me valuable lessons and skills that I still use today. It just wasn't for me.

Although they may not say what you want to hear, mentors can provide an objective perspective that can help you see opportunities in a new light. Their experience and wisdom provide learning opportunities that can save you from making choices that could potentially limit your growth. 

3. Having a champion to help propel your career

Through my mentors, I've gained exposure to otherwise unattainable opportunities--because I was inexperienced, and because I would have never considered them.

I don't consider myself a great writer. I struggled in school, and it's always been an area of vulnerability. When the opportunity arose to write articles people would actually read, I felt some heavy doubt. There were times I felt I couldn't handle it.

Yet, here you are, reading my writing.

With the encouragement and support of my mentor, who (strangely enough) had publishing experience, I pursued the opportunity. It has been an incredible experience that's helped my personal development and reinspired my career.

I am, of course, a proponent of education. However, I don't like it when people feel pressured or forced into making a significant investment before they're ready. That's the MBA experience for many.

If you're stuck on the fence and looking for ways to propel your career, give mentorship a try. It may change your life. And even better, it's free.

Published on: Jun 25, 2018