Confession: I clung firmly to an “I can do things all by myself” mentality when I first started my career. I thought that if I just went to work every day, kept my head down, and did my job well, I’d successfully rise through the ranks in no time.
Boy, was I wrong. After weeks of eating at my desk alone, making few to no friends, feeling overwhelmed by my work, and envying other colleagues’ work relationships, I realized that my approach wasn’t working so well. So I shifted gears and decided to put in the effort to make friends at work, which turned out to be one of the best decisions that I could’ve made for my career. Not only did it make my time at work more enjoyable, also it aligned me with people who supported me, advocated for me, and championed my growth and accomplishments in moments when I couldn’t do so myself.
But here’s the thing: When you’re building relationships around the office, you shouldn’t just limit yourself to your peers–the folks who have similar roles or are roughly your own age. Especially when you’re relatively new to the workplace, it’s smart to make friends all the way up the ladder. Here are a few of the work friends you’ll need.
1. AN ENTRY-LEVEL WORK BUDDY
This one is pretty self-evident and uncomplicated: When you’re first starting out in your career, you need a friend at work who gets you. Even if they’re just a “work friend,” nothing beats being able to be completely honest and open with someone who knows and sees your daily experiences firsthand.
Ideally, your work buddy should be someone in a similar title or position as you, who doesn’t show any signs of competition–someone who’s trustworthy and candid. This type of relationship is crucial since they listen without judgment, rant about shared frustrations and rave about accomplishments, and support you throughout your day-to-day undertakings.
2. A MID-LEVEL MENTOR
Another friendship worth cultivating early on? Someone in the middle of the totem pole who isn’t your manager. For me, a couple of different people filled this role early in my career. I built relationships with coworkers on my team who interacted with me but weren’t in charge of overseeing my work. This was helpful because they were always able to offer constructive feedback on how I could improve–but none of the resulting pressure since I wasn’t their direct report.
I also built relationships with mid-level associates outside my own team who really helped me improve my “soft skills,” those all-important interpersonal habits governing how I interacted with others in the office. It was helpful to find more experienced mentors whose professional behaviors I could watch and model.
Both types of relationship were valuable because one focused on my work ethic while the other focused on my presence as a leader in development.
3. A SENIOR-LEVEL ADVOCATE
Befriending a senior manager or executive can be powerful for your career, but for many people, this one’s obviously the hardest. Your opportunities to interact with senior execs aren’t exactly numerous when you’re an entry-level employee, but it isn’t impossible. Here are a few tips for getting a word in with a top-level leader, and what to say when you do.
In the meantime, keep in mind that you’re not actually asking for the moon when you seek out a relationship with an experienced manager. Because they don’t typically have the bandwidth to meticulously assess your work ethic and leadership capabilities, there’s a limit to the number of ways (and times) you’re able to rely on them–which is a good thing since it forces you to be selective. Still, they can become your voice in rooms you don’t yet have access to yet. They also can also share advice on how to navigate office politics and other tricky situations that are easy to fumble without an experienced point of view guiding your decisions.
Personally, I developed a relationship with a vice president who wasn’t on my team. Her advocacy was invaluable when I decided to seek a promotion; she proactively pointed out which gaps I’d need to fill so I could prepare for the conversation with my boss. Later, she later became an influential reference during my job hunt when I decided to leave the company.
Building these types of connections with friends and mentors in your work life takes time and consistency, but once you establish them, they can dramatically impact the trajectory of your career. At the very least, they’ll make your time at work each day much more pleasant and gratifying.
Adunola Adeshola is a millennial career strategist and the founder of employeeREDEFINED.com.