How to Find a Mentor at Work

Mentors challenge your thinking, help you avoid mistakes and provide career guidance that, ideally, will allow you to achieve your goals faster.

Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, once said: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

Ponder that thought and take stock. Are any of your five people living the life you want? That’s the power and beauty of mentors as they have the career—and often the lifestyle—you covet.

Are you ready to learn wining ways to find a guiding hand and words of wisdom? Do you already have potential mentors in mind? That’s great, but before you complete the list of people to help shape your career, dispense any notion they need to look like you, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has said. Most of her mentors were old white men because they dominated her field, she stated.

Here are nine additional steps to take to find and keep a great mentor relationship at work:

1. Be a good employee so you are mentor-worthy. Often, a mentor will find you if you work hard and possess the qualities and characteristics of what it take to be successful. Do that and you will be a mentor magnet.

2. Be clear on where you need help. A mentor can serve you best in their areas of expertise. This means you need to know your short- and long-term goals as well as how a mentor can specifically assist you right now. Clarity is key and the best route to get you where you want to go. Practice your pitch.

3. Identify potential mentors and study them. Make sure the men and women you seek out are people you like and respect. Approach people who are known for being honest, forward thinking and transparent. Make sure their values align with your own.

4. Approach the mentor. Explain who you are and why you have targeted him or her to help you with your professional life and career. Be clear about what outcomes you seek and the time commitment. There is a possibility the person is too busy, but any successful mentor will be stretched for time. Most mentors will make room for you if they believe their time will be well spent. Be confident and remember you can’t win if you don’t play, so ask anyway.

5. Consider choosing mentors with different perspectives. Having a few mentors with different backgrounds and experiences can help with multiple aspects of your career. This approach also reduces the risk of hearing just one point of view and exposes you to different ways to approach a problem or gain new skills and knowledge. Check in often, ask lots of question and practice the art of listening.

6. Bring something to the relationship. Consider paying for lunch or dinner—at least offer. Your mentor’s time is valuable and finding a way to do something he or she would appreciate strengthens the relationship. When in doubt, just ask your mentor what he or she would like in return.

7. Ask for developmental feedback. This type of feedback may be difficult to hear, but it can make you a better professional. In many cases, your mentor will provide it, but stating it as a priority early in the relationship identifies a key expectation and shows you mean business in furthering your career.

8. Relax, don’t force the relationship. The best mentor/mentee relationships grow organically. It should never feel like a tense and coerced obligation. Your mentor should take an interest in your career. If that doesn’t happen, thank the mentor for his or her time and cultivate a new mentor. And don’t overlook mentoring from peers and colleagues, with whom you already have a good working relationship. Some of them may be unofficially serving in that role.

9. Seek a freelance mentor. Also known as agile talent, these outside experts almost always possess an entrepreneurial mindset, which most full-time employees lack, according to a research report in Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2017/01/bring-in-outside-experts-to-mentor-your-team). Tapped by management for their knowledge and experience, agile talent can provide insights and new innovations. One challenge may be distance as freelancers often work independently. But you want more than one mentor anyway, right?

Mentors matter. Getting and keeping a formal mentoring relationship is invaluable. Putting in the work to make a mentoring relationship thrive is one of the best ways to invest in your career growth.

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