How Your Personal Advisory Board Can Bolster Your Career


February 26, 2024


180 Engineering

As the world becomes more complex and dynamic, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, both personally and professionally. Traditional processes and systems need to evolve to keep pace with the changes. One such evolution gaining traction among professionals is the shift from a singular mentor to a strategic network of people who offer different types of guidance and support, often referred to as a personal advisory board.

In professional fields, individual mentors offer focused career support, with the aim of helping their mentees progress along the traditionally linear career path. But in today’s world, increased mobility, rapidly changing technology, hybrid and remote work arrangements, a changing work/life balance, the widespread adoption of gig work, and shifting employer priorities have introduced considerable change. Not only are non-linear career paths becoming more common but the range of skills needed to navigate those non-linear paths is astounding.

Personal advisory boards can provide much-needed support. Composed of a small, diverse group of people with whom you have forged connections, a personal advisory board can offer varied insights and perspectives to help you make career decisions.

What Is A Personal Advisory Board?

A personal advisory board is essentially a handpicked team of advisors, with each one bringing a unique perspective and skill set to the table. It serves as a source of accountability and encouragement, helping you stay focused on your goals and providing support. Knowing that you have a dedicated group of individuals cheering you on can boost your confidence and resilience at any point of your career, whether you’re just starting or navigating a changing role in the C-Suite.

Traditional relationships between a mentor and a mentee typically focus on the mentee’s area of professional specialization. And it is perhaps unrealistic to think that a single person would be able to offer overarching guidance and support for your all career goals. A personal advisory board, on the other hand, can more broadly assist with your career path, including advice on:

  • Honing your soft skills;
  • Negotiating your offer of employment;
  • Managing office politics;
  • Asking for a raise;
  • Navigating career shifts; and
  • Achieving an optimal work/life balance.

Ideally, a well-rounded personal advisory board includes 5-6 people and is as diverse as possible, representing different races, genders, and ages as well as a range of industries. It can even include friends and family members. The most important thing is that you trust and value the perspectives and advice of each person.

In a piece at CIO, Teena Piccione, global CIO and executive vice president at RTI International, describes her personal advisory board in this way:

I have six people on my board who I can text or call at any moment … Half are men, half are women and they’re all from different industries. Five is the least amount of people I’d suggest. Below that number and you start to lose the benefit of varied perspectives. And also, having an odd number helps so there’s never a tie if I’m asking for advice …

As implied by Piccione’s description, these advisory boards are quite casual. They usually require a small time commitment from their members, especially when compared to a traditional mentorship arrangement. For this reason, it’s often easier to assemble an advisory board than it is to establish a formal mentorship.

How To Assemble Your Personal Advisory Board

Bringing together individuals for your personal advisory board doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Many key members are likely already present in your life. They might be previous bosses, peers and colleagues, influential people in or outside of your industry, or even family members or friends.

It’s important to identify individuals who align with your own values and personality but who are also quite different from each other. As explained above, a diverse board will be most effective. It may require some careful thought and intentional networking to piece together an exceptional board.

Once you’ve identified a potential board member, reach out to them to explain your intentions and goals as they relate to your board. Since many people will want clarification around the extent of their commitment, be prepared to state your expectations. How often do you anticipate reaching out for advice? Do you plan to reach out informally (e.g., by text) as needed or are you hoping to touch base more regularly for continued feedback and guidance? Also, it’s important to be willing to reciprocate and act as a board member in return, or to be referred to another connection as a board member.

Experts suggest that certain types of supporters are key for an effective advisory board. A study identifies six critical types of members for an effective board: personal guides, personal advisors, full-service mentors, career advisors, career guides, and role models.

Personal Guides

Personal guides are people with whom you likely have limited interaction but nonetheless, they provide support by motivating and inspiring you, perhaps serving as role models. While they may be people who highly influenced you in the past (such as a teacher or past manager), they may also be influential people whom you admire.

Personal Advisors

Personal advisors provide active support, most usually outside of the workplace. These are often people with whom you have a close personal connection, including friends and family members. These are people who have your best interests at heart and act as your personal cheerleaders, assuring you of your capabilities and encouraging you as you strive towards your goals.

Full-Service Mentors

While a lone mentor may not be capable of providing all the advice and support that you need to navigate today’s non-linear career paths, they are still an invaluable resource. In addition to being an expert in your field of specialization, your mentor should be a person with whom you have a close relationship. Mentors should be available to provide extensive and frequent support, offering both encouragement and constructive feedback.

Career Advisors

Career advisors are typically supervisors or managers who work directly with you in the workplace. Their support and advice are most often directed to your on-the-job performance or professional needs. They may be positioned to help guide you through career transitions, identifying your strengths and offering advice on how to address your weaknesses so that you can successfully advance in your current company.

Career Guides

A career guide is someone who you turn to for advice concerning a specific event in your career. For example, if you’ve been laid off or offered a significantly different role at your company and you’re unsure whether the role is suited for you, a career guide can offer assistance. These are usually people who know you well but with whom you have limited interaction (e.g., a former manager).

Role Models

Role models are, of course, people who you admire and want to emulate. When it comes to your personal advisory board, a role model can be someone with whom you have a close relationship or it can be someone with whom you have no relationship at all, such as a renowned expert in your field or a celebrity. Although you may not be able to reach out to your role models, their values and actions align with your own, allowing you to make decisions based on actions you’ve witnessed them do or those you believe they would do.

Nurturing And Evolving Your Personal Advisory Board

Once you’ve established your personal advisory board, you will need to invest some time and effort to maintain it. If you don’t intend to check in regularly with everyone on your board, you should still touch base periodically to provide updates on your career journey and the challenges that you are currently navigating.

While you might choose some board members specifically because you value their support and encouragement, you should be open to feedback and constructive criticism from all of them. And, of course, whenever someone on your board takes time to assist you in any way, it’s important to express thanks.

Just as you evolve both personally and professionally, so too should your advisory board. You might shift roles, move to a new geographic location, or change to an entirely different industry. You will also meet new people over time who might be a better fit for your board than some of your existing members. As you navigate your career path and its shifts, you should consider the effectiveness of your advisory board and address any gaps that emerge. Ongoing assessment and adjustment are critical to the success and effectiveness of a personal advisory board.