Mentors are individuals who can provide career support, advice, inspiration and encouragement. They are often in the same industry in which you are working (or planning to be working in) and can be anyone from a peer or someone younger than you, but are usually at a career level or more ahead of you. While some organizations you study and work at will have formal mentor programs, finding your own mentor can allow you to really connect with someone who is right for you.
Here are 5 steps to finding one:
- Know Your Goals. The secret to finding a mentor is to know what you hope to achieve by having one. Is it to learn more about succeeding in a particular career? Is it to have a role model who looks like you or comes from a similar background in life or education? Is it to learn how to be a leader, entrepreneur, or balance life and work? Take the time to reflect on your goals at this point in your career so you know what to look for.
- Start with your existing network to find a potential mentor (or mentors). See if you can identify the qualities and/or knowledge you are looking for in your current network of friends, family, peers, alumni, faculty and past/current co-workers and supervisors and start reaching out to have conversations and explore the possibilities. You can let them know what you are trying to find and if they can’t help you, they may be able to help you identify someone who can. It can be someone in an industry you belong to or aspire to. It can be someone at your company, particularly if your organization has a formal mentorship program that you can participate in. Ideally, it is someone who has a different perspective than you do. One person may not have all of what you need. You can have a “board” of different mentors and advisors for different purposes, including at least one who represents a similar identity to you (in gender, race, class, and or sexual orientation).
- Develop a relationship with your potential mentor and then make a clear ask. The next step is to get to know the person you are thinking about asking to be your mentor and let them get to know you. This can be similar to other relationships you form through networking – by having conversations about their professional experiences and sharing your own experiences and questions. After you have been introduced to one another or you have reached out to introduce yourself, ask for a meeting – ideally in person (if safe), virtual, or by phone – and you can treat the first meeting as you might an informational interview.
If it goes well, be sure to follow up with a LinkedIn connection request (if you haven’t already) and a thank you message. You can keep in touch with updates about what action(s) you have taken with any advice or next steps they suggested or follow up with additional questions. Once you feel as if the relationship is going well and that this would be the right match for you, make a clear ask about their interest in being your mentor. Tell them what goals you have and how you see their experience and knowledge being relevant and of interest to you. If they respond positively, set up another meeting to discuss how the relationship will work.
- Take responsibility for your role in the relationship and use the mentor’s time well. Come to meetings prepared, open and ready to listen and learn. In your first meeting, ask what they expect from you and talk through what would be the right amount of meetings, how often and by which medium. Ask if there is anything they prefer not to do or any concerns they may have. This article about mentoring in Forbes has some helpful tips for thinking about what you can do to make the relationship successful.
- Express gratitude and look for how you can give back. A mentor relationship is not a one way street, no matter how much more your mentor may know or have experienced. You can contribute to the relationship as well – certainly with updates, gratitude and insight into your professional experiences. You may know some areas of knowledge or connection that could benefit your mentor! Sometimes, they may need someone to listen and provide perspectives about their experiences. You can also show your appreciation that someone was willing to share time and advice with you by looking how you can do it for others – maybe younger students interested in your career or those who are just starting out.
Anyone can find their own mentor by following some basic steps. This podcast episode Mentorship: A Career Game Changer from NPR Life Kit and the article Ten Tips for Finding a Mentor from The Muse provides several.