Much has been written about the benefits of having a career mentor, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered how important it is to have what I’m going to call a “career peer.” I couldn’t find any commonly used catchphrases or monikers out there for this type of person, so right here and now I’m going to try and coin “career peer” and stress the importance of finding one.
Let’s begin with the basics. What is a career peer?
A career peer is someone who is on roughly the same career path as you, and at approximately the same stage of professional development.
Perhaps it’s easier to understand if I use my own career peers as examples.
I would consider Alicia Jessop my original career peer. We’re about the same age, we’re both attorneys, and we both want to pursue careers that involve reporting on, analyzing and teaching sports business. When Alicia was starting her website, Ruling Sports, she reached out to me because she read my BusinessofCollegeSports.com website. We became fast friends through Twitter and email. In fact, I was so comfortable with Alicia that when I was hired by ESPN and had to give up writing on BusinessofCollegeSports.com, I passed the reigns of my website to her.
When something is happening in my career as a sports business reporter – good or bad – I always know I can call Alicia and she’ll understand. If an opportunity comes my way that I have to pass on or that she’d be better for, I send it her way, and I know she’d do the same.
You might be thinking, isn’t Alicia my competitor? In fact, when I asked on Twitter what you would call this type of person I’ve named the “career peer,” one of the top responses was “competition.”
Yes, Alicia is my competition. There are probably quite a few jobs out there we’d both covet. That being said, knowing Alicia is out there keeps me on top of my game. Knowing the same employer might look at us both makes me work harder. Her existence doesn’t hurt me, it fuels me.
And at the end of the day, no one understands my professional life more than Alicia does. That makes our friendship incredibly valuable to me – not to mention the fact that she’s one of the most generous and kind people I’ve had the pleasure to know.
This post was inspired, however, by a second career peer. Last year, I interviewed a young woman about my age for pieces I was writing for Woman’s Day and Men’s Health about online dating. Her name is Laurie Davis, and she runs an online dating consultancy called eFlirt Expert.
At this point you must be wondering why Laurie is my career peer. I’m a sports business reporter and a freelance writer and she’s an online dating consultant. If you get past our job titles, however, we have a great deal in common. Laurie’s first book, Love @ First Click: The Ultimate Guide to Online Dating, was released earlier this year. Shortly thereafter, my first book, Saturday Millionaires: How Winning Football Builds Winning Colleges, was published. Laurie has created a business around helping others accomplish their goals. I too am now developing a business that will help others accomplish their goals. The fact that she helps clients with their online dating profiles and I help students and bloggers with career development isn’t as important as the fact that we’re both small business owners who provide services. (We also both met our fiances on Twitter – which was fun to swap stories about but not really relevant to our professional development.)
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Laurie in person for the first time while on business in New York City. Three and a half hours, some tall glasses of champagne and two bowls of truffled mac and cheese later, I knew I’d found a new career peer.
The conversation started with our books, and it was a relief to talk to someone who’d been through some of the same experiences with publishing. Trust me, until you’ve published a book you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to try and sell a book. Being able to talk about that with someone else, and actually have them understand and share similar stories, is priceless.
Beyond empathizing with me about the life of an author, however, Laurie energized me in other areas of my professional life. After several years of dispensing free advice to students and young professionals about obtaining a career in sports and growing as a professional within the industry, I’ve been considering providing paid services where I could interact with people on a more one-on-one basis for a few months now. I just wasn’t ready to pull the trigger. What services would I provide? How would I price my services? I got bogged down in the details.
Then I had dinner with Laurie. I listened as she talked about her business flourishing (if you need help with online dating, seriously, she’s your girl!) and about how terrific it felt to impact someone’s life so positively. I asked her about the services involved in each of her packages, and she explained to me how she priced her services.
I left dinner knowing, without a doubt, that I wanted to pursue this consultancy service for students, bloggers and young professionals. I had a clearer idea of how I’d package services and what I’d charge for them. I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room and sketch out my plan.
You can check out my new career services for students and young professionals here.
And that’s why you need a career peer. They motivate you, they push you to test your limits and they give you not just a sounding board but also relevant advice from someone who’s navigated the same waters. As much as career mentors are important because they’ve been where you are and moved ahead successfully, I think career peers are equally important and bring something different to the table. A career peer doesn’t have to try to remember what it was like to be in your shoes – they’re currently in a matching pair.
I think finding a career peer is much easier when you’re a student, because you’re literally sitting next to these people in class every day. Once you’re in the professional world, however, I think you have to make a conscious effort to seek out these folks, and you have to mentally move past any sort of competitive fears. If you can’t truly open up to someone because you’re afraid they’ll use that information to their advantage, then they’re not the right career peer. I’d look for someone else you can trust or for a situation like I have with Laurie where your experiences are similar but not in the exact same industry. For what it’s worth, neither of mine live in the same city as me, so feel free to cast your net nationwide.
Do you have a career peer? How did you find them? How do you think they assist in your professional development?