How to be a great career wingman

Young professionals

Step up your professional development with the help of a career wingman.

If you’re just starting out in your career or don’t have much of a professional network to utilize, it can be tough to make progress in your professional life. While it can be helpful to find a mentor, or work on your social media presence, some people—like recent graduates—really benefit from having a career wingman on their side.

So what is a career wingman, and how do you excel at it? Instead of a mentor, or somebody who’s likely more mature and established in his career and can pass on the benefits of their experience to you, a C.W. is often somebody at the same age and experience level in his career as you are. And because you’re both in the same spot, it can be equally beneficial to serve as career wingmen for each other because you’ll be able to offer personalized support for what the other is working through.

As for how to be a great career wingman, here are the three rules to get you both ahead in your careers.

Rule No. 1: Know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
Just like when you’re setting a friend up with a date, it’s helpful to know personal details about your C.W. that will entice others into meeting him. Be sure to know their professional goals, past experience, what they’re currently working on and their personal working style. These are professional basics that employers want to know, as well as others you’ll be networking with or encountering along your career path.

On professional networking sites, vocalize the skills and expertise that your fellow C.W. possesses, as well as the proof and results you’ve seen of their work. For instance, you might endorse their skills on social media, or leave a review of them on their professional website. Employers don’t mind if a potential employee is missing a few of the requirements for a position if they can demonstrate that they have great potential and have already established some success in their life. By backing up your C.W.’s work ethic and professional experience, you’re giving the potential employer a boost of confidence that your C.W. is capable of getting the job done.

Rule No. 2: Network together
Most people don’t enjoy networking, and younger professionals often find the process intimidating since they don’t have many bargaining chips to use when meeting others. But if you have a C.W. on your side, a networking event may begin to feel like any other social event you’ve attended. The key is to have fun, be outgoing and play a support role to your C.W., just like they’ll be doing for you.

For networking events, prepare ahead of time and research who else might be attending, and also look into recent industry news for conversation starters. At the event, people are much more likely to be attracted to your conversation if it’s clear that you and your C.W. are enjoying yourself and being social. And because you and your C.W. already know each other’s strengths and accomplishments, it will be easy to introduce them to networking attendees who may be a good connection, and share why your fellow C.W. is someone they need to meet.

Rule No. 3: Work on professional development together
From public speaking and persuasive writing, to tax forms and nonprofit organization standards, whatever profession you’re getting into, there are some areas you’re going to have to master in order to get ahead. Whether it’s a professional certification you need to study for, or simply a presentation that you want to practice for, having a C.W. means having somebody to bounce your ideas off of, somebody to study with and somebody to review your work.

The biggest benefit to having a career wingman is that you’ll always have somebody that’s invested in your success, and will be there to help you achieve it. A C.W. is different than a spouse or family member who wants to support your happiness, because your career wingman should be a source of honest feedback, informed advice and inspiring ambition. While family and friends will often encourage you to take a hit in your career if it means personal happiness, your C.W. should have better insight on how to get ahead in your career, even if it means working through some unsavory parts of your professional development. The good news is that no matter what, your career wingman will be there to make sure you come out on top.