One of the smartest investments you can make in your career is finding a good mentor who believes in you and wants to help you achieve your career dreams. The question is: how do you find the best mentor for you? Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the delicate process of finding a mentor who is the perfect fit.
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- The Why
Before you do anything, you’ll want to identify the reasons for which you’re seeking out a mentor in the first place. Grab a pen and paper and start by jotting down your strengths and weaknesses, your short- and long-term career goals, and three to five things you wish to gain from a mentor. The purpose in all this is to help you recognize why you want a mentor, and what you hope to get out of the relationship. It’s important to know what you need and want out of your career so that you can identify the areas of improvement with which a mentor can help.
- The Who
Now that you understand what you would like from a mentor, it’s time to figure out what you want in a mentor. Start by envisioning what your mentor looks like. This isn’t meant to be superficial by any means, but to determine your preferences about the characteristics of your ideal mentor, based on your career objectives. For instance, is your ideal mentor male or female? Is he or she younger or older than you or around the same age? Is he or she an entrepreneur of a small business or a high-level manager at a global firm? Being able to identify some basic demographics and characteristics will help you narrow down your search for the perfect mentor for you.
- The Selection
What better place to start searching for a mentor than within your existing network? Break up your network into tiers based on degree of separation from you, and then start with the people with whom you are most closely connected and work your way down the tiers.
Don’t limit yourself to just professional connections, either, because mentors come from all walks of life. For instance, you may want to consider family members, friends, fellow alumni, and people within organizations with which you’re affiliated to see if they fit the mold. Get the word out about your intentions of finding a career mentor, because your immediate connections may know someone who could be a good fit, too. Nowadays, it’s more about whom you know, not what you know.
- The Invitation
You finally narrowed down your selection to a few potential mentors, and now comes the hard part: approaching them. Asking someone to mentor you can be nerve-wracking ordeal, but it really doesn’t have to be, if you don’t let it. There’s no doubt that you may feel intimidated and completely vulnerable in asking someone to mentor you, but, in reality, it’s quite the compliment. If you think about it, you wouldn’t be asking this person to be your mentor (i.e. teach and guide you) if you didn’t look up to him or her. Therefore, be confident (and prepared) in your request and know that the right mentor will be honored to accept your offer.
- The Relationship
A successful mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street, so be sure to do your part to maintain the partnership. To better understand what I’m trying to say, consider that one friend who only calls you when she needs something. She never bothers to ask you anything about your life or career, but she somehow finds a way to lead the conversation back to her and her problems. Eventually, you’ll probably begin to feel used and slowly distance yourself from this neglectful friend. Be careful not to be the “user” who only contacts your mentor when you need something, because you’ll end up wearing the relationship down from your one-sided ways.
You can reciprocate by keeping your mentor up-to-date with how you’re progressing in your career and how her advice helped you accomplish x, y, and z. It never hurts to thank your mentor for all that she’s done, even when things in your career don’t go as planned. Most importantly, keep communication open between you two and always be honest and reliable – because there’s nothing worse than your mentor losing trust in you.
Finding the right mentor to help guide you can make all the difference in your career, so choose wisely and be sure to avoid these five mistakes when making your final decision.
Tell Us What You Think
Has a mentor helped you live out your career dreams? Share your success story with our community on Twitter, and don’t forget to give a shout-out to your mentor, too. Feel free to share your story below in the comments section.