The Yoda to Your Luke: Six Tips for Finding a Mentor at Work

So you’re ready to take your career to the next level. One of the best ways to propel your accounting career forward is by finding a mentor at work — someone who can teach you to harness the power of the force (so to speak). The problem is that not all companies have formal mentoring programs, which means you may have to do some legwork.

It can be very helpful to have a trusted adviser to tap for support, objective feedback and real-world recommendations on navigating your career. Moreover, simply knowing that someone is invested in your professional growth provides extra layers of accountability and incentive to succeed. Yet, many accounting professionals fail to pursue the role of protégé, often because they don’t know where to begin.

These Yoda-themed tips offer guidance on finding a mentor at work:

1. Career Goals, You Must Know

Before you even approach a mentor, you need to know what types of career paths interest you. Are you looking to be the best payroll clerk the world has ever seen, or do you eventually want to be part of complex financial analyses and decision making? When you have set goals in mind, it not only gives you an idea of whom to approach when finding a mentor at work, it also gives your prospective mentor an idea of which areas to focus on when guiding you.

2. Wisely, Your Mentor You Must Choose

You’ll obviously need to make the match if your employer has no mentoring program. Think about who you want to work with. If you’re an entry-level employee, consider asking a coworker who has significant experience in your specific areas of interest. If you’re interested in brushing up your technological savvy, Forbes suggests asking a more junior colleague. In addition to the skills you’d like to acquire, take into account the connections you could gain when finding a mentor at work. After all, in today’s workplace, networking is crucial.

3. Personality, You Must Size Up

You may be amazed at a coworker’s ability to wrangle fiscal data with one hand tied, but that doesn’t mean he or she is well suited to being a mentor. Choose a mentor who enjoys not only teaching, but also learning and being questioned. The most harmonious relationships will come from someone who sees your exchange as mutually beneficial. Seek a leader or colleague who is patient, polished and known for being a good communicator.

4. Outside the Cubicle, You Must Think

There is a chance that you may have trouble finding a mentor at work. Don’t be afraid to take it outside the office. There’s no rule that your mentor has to work in the same building as you ­­— or even live in the same city. Consider someone you know through an industry association. Many mentorships take place over lunches or via email. Peruse your LinkedIn connections for potential mentors as well. If a person isn't able to help you directly, he or she may be able to introduce you to a contact who can.

5. For Guidance, You Must Ask

Now that you’ve set your sights on a mentor, it’s time to ask for guidance. Mention that you’re impressed by her experience, and that you’d love the opportunity to learn from her. Explain your career goals and which skills you’re most interested in developing. In addition, be respectful of the person's time. Mentorship doesn’t mean you have to shadow the individual’s every move. Sometimes, the relationship can start off as simply as a few phone calls or email exchanges. If you’re gracious and complimentary, you’ll be surprised at how receptive most people are to the prospect of “paying it forward.”

6. Gratitude, You Must Show

Mentoring requires some time and effort, so you want to make sure that you express your gratitude to your mentor. Keep him or her apprised of your successes and include examples of how the guidance helped you along the way. Offer to share insights you’ve learned on your own, or make introductions to new connections you’ve made. One of the best ways to thank mentors for helping you advance your career is to help them advance their careers as well.

Share your mentoring experiences with your fellow Jedi members in the comments section.

Related content: The Surprising Benefits of Mentoring