How to Find the Right Mentor
A mentor can be an invaluable person to have in your life. She can help support and encourage your professional development while becoming a reliable source of wisdom and insight over the course of your (hopefully long term) relationship. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find a mentor right in your own office. At other times, it may take some digging around to find the “one” with whom you click. Read on for tips to help you find the right mentor for you.
1. Identify your goals
Before you approach someone about your professional goals, you should have a firm grasp of what you want, both short and long term. NPR suggests using the SMART approach when attempting to formulate your goals by making them: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
By breaking down your hopes and dreams into individual points—and asking yourself specifically relevant questions, such as “What do I want to professionally accomplish within X-number of months?” or “Do my goals require me to change jobs/industries or can I accomplish them in my current position?”—you will find it easier to identify the type of mentor who can help you achieve those goals.
2. Don’t be afraid to look outside your industry
While the tendency to search for a mentor within your industry is a natural one, don’t become blinded to those outside the perimeters of your job who can offer valuable insight. Business News Daily points out that sharing the same leadership philosophy may be more important than sharing the same job description. Look for someone whose ideas about management and leadership align with yours, as those areas are critical for getting ahead—no matter what industry you’re in.
3. Think about who you admire
Look at the people around you and the positions they hold: Which one of those jobs would you like to have in the next five years? The next decade? Is the person who holds that job inside or outside your immediate workplace? If it helps, keep a physical list of the jobs and people who come to mind when you think about what you want your professional future to look like. This list can act as a pool of potential mentors once you’ve identified exactly what it is about those positions that’s attractive to you.
4. Be proactive
Once you’ve identified one or two potential mentors, don’t just introduce yourself and hope for the best. Forbes recommends becoming “action-oriented” by familiarizing yourself with their work (through their blog posts, podcasts, books, etc.) and beginning to apply their advice to your own professional development. Do all this before you even set up a meeting. By doing so, you not only have common ground from which to begin building a professional relationship, but it also establishes the fact that you take what they have to say seriously. After all, no one wants to dedicate time giving meaningful advice without knowing if someone is ever going to use it.
5. Wait for them to offer help
As tempting as it may be to dive right in with requests, it’s polite to wait until your potential mentor explicitly asks if there is anything, he can do to help you (whether that’s through advice, help, connections, etc.). In the meantime, work on building trust and mutual respect, and your potential mentor will likely ask if there is something specific you need. Then, and only then, you can ask them for something—but start out small! Think a quick question, or advice on a specific problem. As your mentor/mentee relationship evolves, your questions can get bigger and more complex.
While there are definitely some consistent qualities to look for in a mentor, the truth is that everyone’s professional needs are different…and so are the mentors who can help. In the age of the Internet, it's easier now than ever before to connect with those who can serve in a leadership role within your own professional development—so all that’s left is to make the move and go for it!