You’ve no doubt been told countless times how important it is to find a mentor — that one person you can always lean on for career support. After all, it’s hard to deny the value in learning from others who’ve been where you are professionally at any moment in time.
A mentor can provide you with necessary and unbiased advice when it comes to everything from your career opportunities to your professional goals. And as you spend more and more time together, you’ll see the quality of your decisions and the breadth of your skills improve.
Finding the Ideal Mentor
The only problem: Few people really know how to find the right mentor. Their search often starts with the misconception that the only person for the job is a seasoned professional with years and years of experience.
While this can certainly help, your choice in mentor isn’t about age so much as who will best suit your needs — and suit your needs at that particular time. So, we suggest you consider the following when looking for someone to help you grow your skills and career:
1. Define your needs
The more you know about yourself, the easier it’ll be to find the right person to fill the role. Sit down and really look at your strengths and weaknesses to help decide what you need to learn and where you need to grow.
Taking a long, hard look at your own abilities can help you better identify the ideal qualities of a mentor. Is it someone with experience in a certain industry? Is it someone with lots of connections in your chosen field?
You’ll also want to consider what kind of mentor will work best with your personality. Do you need someone who’ll push you toward your goals? Or, would you feel more comfortable with a mentor who’s more of a listener?
2. Start closest to home
When looking to fill the role of mentor, begin your search with those you know best, like family and friends. Then, extend out into your network of colleagues and business associates.
If you’re still unable to nail down a mentor, consider attending business associations in your area, joining community groups, or volunteering for nonprofit organizations. As you get to know the members, you’ll likely find someone who fits the bill.
3. Set your expectations
People enter into a professional arrangement with expectations of the other party. Mentorship is no different. Set some expectations for a mentor to help you focus on what you need and narrow down your options further.
And once you find someone who agrees to mentor you, you’ll need to clearly explain your expectations of the relationship. The other person will then better understand the time commitment, topics for discussion, and goals for a successful mentorship.
4. Book some meetings
Doing a few informational interviews is completely normal when in search of a mentor. Sit down with your top candidates to determine who meets your criteria – and is eager and available to be your mentor.
By assessing the attributes of each potential mentor, as well as your needs as a mentee (not to mention the chemistry between yourself and the other person), the ideal candidate will inevitably emerge.
Benefits of Having a Mentor
Contrary to popular belief, finding a mentor isn’t a quick or easy process. Not everyone will want to take on such a responsibility and time commitment. But don’t let that discourage you. You will find someone who wants to take you under his or her wing. And when they do, you’ll reap more than one reward, including:
- Skills. If you’re selective in your choice of mentor (or mentors), you have the chance to learn very specific skills relevant to your professional and personal goals. Mentors will often suggest some areas for improvement.
- Practical advice. Mentors can provide you practical advice on not just your career or how to succeed at your job but salary negotiations, networking, and even dealing with difficult people in the workplace.
- Feedback. Besides maybe your manager, you have few opportunities to receive honest feedback. But the most rewarding aspect of your mentor’s feedback is that it entails more than just job performance and can touch on communication, leadership, and other skills.
- Credibility. Because your mentor has likely earned a certain amount of respect, his or her credibility will inevitably rub off on you. Your association with this person affects other people’s regard of you and your abilities.
- Opportunities. Mentors often know of job openings within an industry. As they learn your strengths and goals, they’re more apt to forward you opportunities.
Open your mind to the possibility of mentorship. Even an informal mentor can help you hone your skills, improve your reputation, and enhance your career potential. There’s minimal risk when you enter into mentor-mentee relationship.