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Career adviser meeting female college student

Role models can help young adults feel they belong and can succeed in their careers, according to new research from Gallup and Amazon.

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The benefits of mentorship extend beyond retention and engagement in higher education—having professional role models can boost overall career success and contentment among young adults.  

A new report from Gallup and Amazon, published Oct. 5, found eight in 10 young adults who grew up in well-off households were more likely to have someone with a successful career whom they looked up to compared to 28 percent of young adults who grew up in poverty.

The report identifies three key aspects of effective role models that promoted career aspirations among young adults and how higher education practitioners can help bridge the gap for early career success.


The survey polled 3,792 early- and midcareer adults between the ages of 18 and 40, reflecting on their middle and high school experiences with career education and role models.

Adults who grew up in low-income households were identified by their answer to the question “Which of the following best describes your family’s economic status when you were a child?” Those who identified that their families were poor and struggled to pay monthly bills, or who sometimes struggled financially, were considered low income.

Findings: Young adults were more likely to report being satisfied in their careers and financial standing if they had someone with a successful career whom they looked up to during their youth, according to the report.

Among respondents with a role model during childhood, 60 percent of young adults say their career pays enough for them to live comfortably, and 68 percent say their current career is fulfilling.

For those who lacked a role model, 39 percent say their career pays enough for them to live comfortably, and 51 percent feel established in their careers. Young adults with role models reported feeling established in their careers at a rate 19 percentage points greater, as well.

Young adults who grew up in low-income households also had a higher likelihood of career satisfaction if they had a mentor or role model growing up, but mentorship did not create a definite impact on their career earnings compared to their higher-income peers.

In addition, the survey shows family members play a key role in career development. Among those who grew up with more than enough money to live comfortably, approximately 34 percent of respondents indicated their family members taught them how to be successful in their careers.

Low-income individuals, however, indicated people outside their family played a greater role in their career mentorship (34 percent) or they lacked career mentorship entirely (38 percent).

Recommendations: To be an effective career role model to a student, the report shares three insights from the survey, applicable to role models during K-12 or college:

  • Provide trustworthy and realistic examples of success. Young people are looking for a role model whom they can trust in their knowledge and expertise (77 percent), who has realistic career success (68 percent) and who motivates them to achieve great things (66 percent).
  • Build rapport with shared life experiences. Young adults whose role model shared life experiences with them are more likely to say their role model helped them believe in themselves (82 percent) and made them feel like they belong (78 percent). Shared race and gender between mentor and mentee can help promote feelings of similar life experiences, as well.
  • Share job insights. Job talks are as common in middle and high school settings as career panels are in higher education, but young adults say direct and positive job talks were more impactful. Conversations involving education and skills needed to work in a career, day-to-day tasks and overall benefits were most impactful for young people.

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