No matter where you are in your career, having a mentor you can turn to for trusted advice is invaluable. This person can serve several important roles: a sounding board, a source of insider knowledge on business topics, and a connector to key industry contacts.
It's easy to understand the importance of a mentorship program. Harder is knowing how to find a mentor and, once you do, how to approach that person. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you navigate this process.
Know what you're looking for
You can't just haphazardly jump into a mentoring relationship. Think about the areas where you could use the most guidance. Maybe it's how to be a more persuasive communicator, a more effective leader or a more successful freelancer. Or perhaps you need help defining a long-term career trajectory, learning the business aspects of the industry, or establishing better work-life balance. Maybe it's all of the above!
Write down your goals so you can pinpoint your needs. In general, it's also wise to search for a would-be mentor who possesses traits such as authenticity, empathy and creativity.
Where to find a mentor
If you're currently employed, start by seeing if your company has a mentoring program. You also can ask your manager for advice on how to find a mentor. He or she may know of potential candidates, or even volunteer his or her own services. Many senior-level creative professionals enjoy playing a part in someone else’s career growth, so don't be afraid to aim high.
While a mentor within your own organization will be better equipped to speak to specific challenges and help your in-house job prospects, consider broadening your search. In fact, since the ideal mentoring relationship is a long-term one, it may be better to seek career advice from someone outside your company. After all, you need to be able to speak freely about on-the-job challenges, like managing tricky relationships or positioning yourself for a promotion.
How to find a mentor outside of work? Network. Look for suitable candidates as you attend conferences, seminars, business lunches and meet-and-greets – anywhere admirable leaders can be found.
How to approach a potential mentor
It's not necessary to have an in-depth relationship with potential advisers, but they should know who you are before you ask them to be a mentor. Once you've identified someone whose character and professional acumen you admire, make the initial contact. Reach out – preferably by email and not by phone or in person – and explain why you think he or she would be an ideal mentor. Then suggest that the two of you get together for coffee or lunch. (An email allows you to present your case succinctly and gives the other person time to consider your proposal.)
During the initial meeting, outline what you hope to learn from this person and why you find his or her insights valuable. Also mention your commitment to learning and what you'll bring to the relationship.
If you respect the person but he or she doesn't even know your name, it's trickier but still possible to establish a mentor-mentee relationship. Gradually start building a professional connection before approaching the person, or ask a mutual acquaintance to make an introduction.
A great mentor can be a pathway to professional growth and success. With determination, planning and courage, you can find a seasoned advisor to guide your creative career.