Whatever your career goals may be, it’s nice to have someone in your corner, rooting for you. The majority of us can truly benefit from and find value in having a mentor to encourage, support and promote us, but this is often easier said than done.
First, you may be asking, “what is a mentor?” Secondly, “how do I find one?”
As defined in the dictionary, a good mentor is a person who guides a less experienced person by building trust and modeling good behavior. An effective mentor is someone who is dependable, engaging and understands the needs of the mentee.
Overall, a good mentor will:
- Access your strengths and weaknesses
- Help you understand the structure/culture of the organization
- Introduce new perspectives and help correct any wrong thinking you may have
- Boost your ability to make decisions (and ask questions)
- Introduce you to resources and useful references
- Be an active listener and help keep you focused and on topic
Now that you understand what a mentor is; the bigger question is how do you go about finding one? Sometimes mentors find you (it happens naturally), but more often than not, YOU need to find someone you respect, even admire and would like to emulate at some point in your career.
Throughout my professional career, I’ve been privileged to have effective career mentors; people who were instrumental in my professional growth. The first mentor was my boss, many years ago when I worked as her executive assistant. She taught me all about the publishing world, the editorial lingo, how to ask questions and most importantly, to develop my skills, professionally and personally. I had a lot of respect for her and I found myself wanting to mimic her professional behavior (and her wardrobe, she was a classy dresser!). That said, I took every opportunity possible to sit down with her over a cup of iced coffee and pick her brain about her career and how she got to where she was. We did this often, and eventually I got promoted to the marketing department! She congratulated me and commented, “I’m proud, it’s a compliment to me that you are being promoted, it means I did my job.” She is still my mentor. Even though we don’t sit and have our iced coffees any more, I still call upon her and she still offers words of wisdom.
It’s not always easy to find a mentor. Here are some tips I learned along the way:
- Ask yourself what qualities you want in a mentor. Is it someone who can help promote you or an expert in your field that can help with a business project?
- Does your HR department have a mentoring program? Make an appointment and find out more.
- Check out LinkedIn! Do an Advanced People Search and look for people that you went to college with or have worked with at previous jobs, even professors from school.
- Steer away from a formal request! Don’t ask “will you be my mentor.” This is usually not very inviting, if anything it’s a bit off-putting. Instead start by simply asking someone for advice or invite them out for a cup of coffee. Find out more about their career path. And, MAKE IT FUN. Get to know each other. Don’t make it sound like work…smile, and exude excitement.
- Prepare and practice your speech. Looking for a mentor means marketing yourself and being self-confident. Learn to promote yourself, talk about some of your accomplishments and seek advice on how you can be better at your job or how you can land that promotion at work. Here is a cool article in Forbes, I read a few years ago, check it out, Trust Yourself and Believe in Yourself!
Now that you have some tips and my own personal mentoring story; start thinking about who you would like to get to know. Keep trying, don’t give up! Looking for a mentor often happens organically, it’s a relationship that develops over time. You’ll find that there are mentoring opportunities everywhere!