Finding a Career Mentor and Making the Most of a Mentorship
Having a career mentor can be the secret sauce to career success. It’s someone who’s in your corner and wants to help you succeed professionally. Of course, you’re probably wondering how to find a mentor, and we’ve got some great tips below. But, knowing how to find a mentor is only the first part of a successful mentorship.
A mentor-mentee relationship should be much more than meeting for coffee on a monthly basis to chat about career goals and successes. It certainly can be fun for both parties to meet in this manner—but a true mentorship is most successful when you both spend time coming up with a strategy for success and have a clear understanding of the long-term goals of the relationship.
What Is a Career Mentor?
A career mentor (or professional mentor) is someone who helps you figure out how to achieve your career goals. They can help you make decisions that move your career forward, offer advice and insight when you face challenges, and provide general feedback about your goals and plans.
Why You Should Have a Professional Mentor
Having a professional mentor is not a career requirement, although some companies have mentorship programs for new staff. However, if you never connect with a mentor, you may want to consider seeking one out to help you achieve career success.
Because a professional mentor is usually someone with experience in your field, you can take advantage of their wisdom, guidance, and expertise—and you can learn from their mistakes!
They can also connect you to others in your industry. This can help you grow your professional network as well as connect you to additional mentors who may also have valuable insights for you.
How to Find a Mentor
In some respects, learning how to find a mentor is much like looking for a new job. You search around, find a job that sounds interesting, learn more about the company and the role, decide that you might be a good match, then apply.
The same is true if you want to find a professional mentor. You have to do some searching, find a professional mentor who sounds interesting, learn more about them, decide they could be a good mentor for you, then ask them to help you out.
Of course, there are a few more details you should think about.
Determine Your Career Goals
Before you begin your career mentor search, you’ve got to do a self-search first. Start by asking yourself what your career goals are. Are you trying to become the CEO of a company? Start your own company? Are you switching careers?
Having a clear idea of your professional goals can help you find a mentor with specific experience in line with your goals. While not a guarantee, it’s far more likely you’ll get better advice that’s specific to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
Identify the “Right” Career Mentor
Once you’ve identified your professional goals, you can identify the “right” mentor. While that’s someone who can guide you in the right direction career-wise, there’s so much more to finding a professional mentor.
You might think that searching on LinkedIn for someone in your field whose experience seems to line up with your goals would find you the right person to ask. And though there are some advantages to connecting with strangers on LinkedIn, when it comes to finding a professional mentor, a stranger is probably not your best bet. At best, the person on the other end might be flattered but wary. At worst, you may connect with someone who gives you terrible advice!
Instead, start with your existing network. Look around and see if anyone seems like a good match, then proceed to the next step. But, if you can’t find someone you think would work, let your network know what you’re up to. They may be able to help you connect with someone in their network who might be a good match and mentor for you.
Do a Test Run
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor or mentors, don’t immediately call them up and ask, “Will you be my mentor?” The person’s career trajectory, accomplishments, or experiences may look great on paper and like exactly what you want, but that doesn’t make them a perfect mentor match for you.
Instead of jumping into the mentor waters head first, start with a few informational interviews first. Treat these interviews as a chance to not only learn more about your field but also a way to learn more about the potential mentor. Are they responsive to your request? Do they really seem to listen to you? Do they do all the talking while you nod and listen?
After one (or several) informational interviews, you may discover that while the person has impressive credentials, they aren’t the right mentor for you, and that’s OK. Keep looking!
How to Ask Someone to Be Your Career Mentor
Once you’ve found someone who you think is a good match, you have to ask them to act as your professional mentor. Don’t be shy about your intentions. Most people are flattered to find out that someone considers them successful and wants their career advice.
However, you need to make clear what you’re asking them to do, why you’re asking them, and what they are committing to. If you don’t, you may not find a professional mentor you want, or you’ll end up in a mentorship that isn’t a good fit.
Make Your Pitch
Start by explaining what your career goals are and how you think this person could help you achieve them. Perhaps mention something about their career path that you like or some part of their work that you are impressed with.
Once you’ve made it clear why you think they are a good match for you, be upfront and clear about what you’re going to put into the mentorship and what you hope to get out of it. Be honest about your expectations, how often you want to (and can) meet, and anything else that could be pertinent to the person making the decision.
Accept “No” With Grace
You may think you’ve found the perfect match, and maybe it is the ideal mentor match. But, sometimes, your “perfect mentor” just doesn’t have the time you need or is over-committed, or any one of a number of things that could prevent them from accepting your request.
Accept it with grace, thank them for considering, and try someone else.
How to Make the Most of a Mentorship
Once you’ve figured out how to find a mentor and have connected, it’s time to make the most of the relationship. A mentorship isn’t all meeting for coffee and chatting a few times a month, though that can be part of it. A mentorship takes work, and it’s the mentee who does most of the heavy lifting.
You’re in Charge
Easily the most important thing to remember about this relationship is that it is the mentee (that’s you) who drives the relationship, not the mentor. The mentor is there to guide you and help you, but not to make decisions, do research, or figure things out for you.
Put simply: you are the one driving the bus.
For example, if your mentor suggests that you get a certain certification to help advance your career, but you never do, you run the risk of upsetting your mentor and ruining the relationship. Likewise, if you never approach your mentor with questions, concerns, or ideas, there’s really no point in having the mentorship.
It’s up to you to take the lead and make the plans. Your mentor is only there to help you figure out the best way to achieve your goals.
Honesty and Respect
A career mentor is someone you should be able to rely on to be honest, regardless of how much the truth may hurt. To help you advance your career path, your mentor has to have your best interests at heart, but shouldn’t sugarcoat the information either.
Sometimes, it may be hard to hear, but the truth is a necessary element of career success.
Keep It Professional
There’s nothing wrong with discussing some aspects of your personal life. It’s a good way for you and your mentor to get to know each other better. However, your mentor-mentee meetings should always focus on your professional questions and challenges, not the personal ones.
Life gets busy, and time goes by quickly, but this should not get in the way of mentorship. To make the most of your career mentor’s time and yours, set up regular meetings. They can be face-to-face or virtual, but it’s important to set and keep a regular meeting schedule. If you don’t, there’s a good chance the relationship will die before it ever has a chance to develop.
Just like you have to do the work, you have to be prepared, too. Create an agenda, so you and your mentor know what topics you want to cover. Consider sending it out in advance in case your mentor wants to prepare for your topics. Bring information about a course you’re thinking of taking. Come prepared with solutions to the problems you face as a way to test them out.
These aren’t coffee meetings for casual conversations. These are serious meetings about your career. And just like you’d prepare for a professional meeting or presentation, you should prepare for your professional mentor meetings, too.
Who says you have to stop at one career mentor? If your goals are multi-faceted, and you can juggle the relationships, you may benefit even more from having a mini-network of mentor-counselors who can offer different opinions that get your career moving even faster.
Know When to Let Go
Like some relationships, sometimes the mentor-mentee relationship runs its course, and the mentee no longer gets anything from the relationship. It happens.
If you’ve reached the end of the road with your mentor, know when it’s time to go your separate ways.
Always Say Thank You
No matter what it is—accepting your request, a regularly scheduled meeting, or ending the relationship—always say thank you. This person is giving up time and knowledge for no other reason than to help you succeed.
Find Your Mentor Match
You’ve got to put a lot of effort into identifying your goals to find a mentor who can help you achieve those goals, and also do the necessary work to get there.
However, with the right mentor at your side, you should find yourself heading for the next step of your professional journey and on your way to career success!
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