For those just starting their careers, finding a trusted mentor to guide them through their first professional experience is essential. But what about those of us who are in the middle of our careers? What do we need in a mentor? While our goals and aspirations shift, the fundamentals of mentorship remain the same and we can all benefit from a benevolent guiding hand.
Since mentorship is important, how do we find a mentor? Here are our tips to locate and approach those people who might be willing to help you.
1. Choose Someone You Know
Your career is your own. You shape your future based on your background, skills, personality and drive that are uniquely you. Find someone who knows you on a professional level. Ideally, you may want to choose someone you know well and admire to ask for their advice on your professional development.
2. It’s Not About the Title
Often we’re inclined to seek help from the best—those people who have had successful careers and are now in executive management positions. However, these people are often very busy and strapped for time. You may get more out of a mentor whose current career might be closer to the path of your own, such as a person who has a job that you might be interested in doing in a few years. This person will have much more relevant insight into your current situation and challenges.
3. Know Your Own Goals
It will be difficult for a would-be mentor to help you if you don’t have identifiable goals. Knowing what you want out of your career—and a mentorship—will help shape the way your mentor responds to you and helps you achieve your goals.
4. Hone Your Ask
When you’re asking for someone’s help, it’s good to be specific. When approaching a would-be mentor, make sure that your request is clear. This is not the time for a quick email inviting a person to coffee and asking for their advice. Components of your ask should include:
- A specific request indicating that you’re interested in mentorship
- Why you’re interested in having a mentor
- The reasons why you are asking the person you’ve chosen, including specific actions or decisions the person has made that you admire
- The goals you’re hoping to achieve with the help of their professional experience
- What your expectation on their time would be
It’s going to be much easier for your would-be mentor to know if they can help you if you lay it all out for them in advance.
5. Approach Your Prospective Mentor
If at all possible, make every effort to sit down with your prospective mentor face-to-face. Be considerate of their time and, since this is a person you know, suggest meeting times that work for their schedule. Present your proposal in a professional manner and then wait for a response. They might be immediately on-board or they might be hesitant. Regardless of the outcome, be gracious and follow up with a thank-you phone call or email after the meeting.
6. Understand Your Role
Mentorship isn’t something that happens to you. It’s a process you should be actively involved in as the mentee. Make sure you have a positive outlook, a can-do attitude, and a willingness to be coached by your new mentor. These attributes will likely result in situations that might be outside your comfort zone—and that’s a good thing. Report back to your mentor about the specific ways you followed their advice and how it has made you feel more successful—or has caused you to change something meaningful. Your mentor will want to hear about the ways they are impacting your life.
7. If You Can’t Find a Mentor
Finding someone with the time and energy to devote to your professional development is a big challenge and so if you aren’t successful in finding a mentor, don’t panic. There are lots of other ways to receive meaningful advice from trusted sources. There are podcasts, blogs, online courses, and membership sites that offer specific professional development advice. If you’re looking for some in-person networking, conferences, industry meet-ups, and professional organizations are good places to start. And, if you feel that personalized attention is what you need to take your career to the next level, a paid career coach might be something to consider.
In its perfect form, mentorship is a complex and long-term relationship that involves a lot of give and take. It’s not easy to find a mentor, but asking the right person in the correct way can result in big career gains for you—and a life-long relationship with a trusted advisor.