Your Other Life Partner, A Mentor

As a young professional, any field can have its difficulties to navigate.  One thing I recommend to anyone who values their career is to have a mentor.  Whether you’ve been in the business for 30+ years, or are just starting out, the value of a mentor is exponential.

Fortunately for me, my amazing mentor Wendy sort of fell in my lap.  For those not so lucky, finding a mentor can kind of be like dating.  So if you’re still available, here are my recommended steps for finding a mentor:

{1} Research.  Great!  You’re taking the first step; you’d like to have a mentor.  Begin your journey by researching successful individuals in your field that could potentially be “the one”.  Your mentor should in some way represent what you professionally, and sometimes even personally, aspire to be.  It could be someone in your exact field, or someone in a similar industry.  You’ll want to find multiple options to ensure the right fit.  Additionally, aim for those who are active in networking and volunteering; these typically tend to be the most open minded about mentor mentee relationships.  Some seasoned professionals may not be open to sharing their know-how, others may not feel they have the time, and some may even already have a mentee.  In the pack, one will ideally see the amazing benefits of having a mentee.  The point is, not only will your mentor offer wisdom and insight into your professional world, but as a mentee you can offer a fresh perspective and new ideas to your mentor.

{2} Meet.  Find an opportunity to actually meet the candidates.  If you know they will be at that networking event, go.  Maybe they are involved with that charity – go volunteer.  Then take the opportunity of being in the room and introduce yourself.  Mention you’ve seen their work, heard of their success, or were impressed by their credentials.  This is a great place to use that research to your benefit.  Did you look at their website?  How about their LinkedIn page?  And even if you can’t find an opportunity to bump into them at an event, simply invite them for coffee or a meal.  The first meeting gets your foot in the door and will give you a good feel if you can move on to make a strong connection.

{3} Connect.  You can look at this as the courting process of finding a mentor, you need to actually build a relationship before they can take that special title.  By this point, you ideally you will have narrowed down your selection to one or two.  With that, a simple networking lunch isn’t enough; you will have to devote your time to cultivate a mentor mentee bond.  Think of working on a project together, volunteering, or shadowing.  Take the time you have together and make it about the mentor.  You will be surprised how much you learn by asking simple questions and listening.  Unfortunately, with this step, there is really no timeline to move from #3 to #4, you have to feel it.

{4} Ask.  Sometimes you may just find a mentor, and it goes without saying.  Other times you may have to pop the question, “Will you be my mentor?”  Don’t be afraid.  Like I said, you have to feel it.  And you’ll probably have a good idea if the mentor is the right fit for you, so asking will be a breeze.  Plus, you’ve cultivated a fairly good relationship by this point.  Once you ask they will be honored that you see them in that way.

Once you’ve gotten the yes, this is the fun part.  You have your mentor, now it’s time to grow…together!  A great mentor will be your teacher, hero, cheerleader, and maybe even your best friend.  They can offer knowledge and wisdom to your industry and professional life.  They can stand as the person you aspire to be.  They can speak of your work ethic and talents to potential employers or future clients.  And they can be the person you vent to, or ask those hard questions that you maybe aren’t suppose to ask in the business world.  In general, they will be a huge support, hopefully throughout your career.  Never underestimate the value you will offer to your mentor.  Remember: When one teaches, two learn. (Robert Haft)