There are many essential ingredients to a successful career, but one that people often overlook is having a mentor. These individuals can provide guidance that can help you in your current role and steer you towards a rewarding professional path. In addition, a mentor will often extend introductions to those in their professional networks, which can be beneficial if you find yourself in the job market.
Unfortunately, many people fail to establish mentor relationships because they are intimidated by the prospect of identifying and approaching someone of influence.
Following these seven tips can make identifying a mentor less daunting:
1. Determine what you need in a mentor
Take advantage of formal mentoring programs that pair new or junior employees with more experienced colleagues if your company offers them. But don’t be discouraged if your company does not have a formal program — it is possible to find a mentor on your own.
Before you begin your search, consider what you hope to gain from the relationship. Consider the specific qualities the person should possess, as well as how he or she might assist you. It’s usually best to select someone who has more years of experience and a career path similar to the one you’re following.
Identify someone who you admire and respect. You can pick an individual who currently works with you or look for a mentor outside your company. Your mentor should ideally be someone who is not in a formal position to evaluate your job performance. Instead, select someone with whom you can talk candidly about career and workplace issues.
2. Conduct a personality check
You may be in awe of someone’s work, but sheer talent doesn’t always translate into an ability to coach. You need someone who is patient and willing to spend time with you. A mentor should also be generous and honest with advice.
3. Take the initiative
Don’t expect a mentor to come to you. After identifying someone whose success and work style you admire, approach him or her and explain that you would enjoy finding out more about the skills and techniques that have helped the person excel. Try not to request too much of this individual’s time, particularly at the beginning of the relationship. People will be more receptive to serving as a mentor if doing so doesn’t require considerable effort.
4. Address any concerns
People who are approached as mentors are often flattered to be asked and happy to help. However, if someone is hesitant, find out why and suggest ways to make it easier for him or her to provide assistance. If the person seems pressed for time, for example, you might reduce the frequency of meetings or ask him or her to refer someone else who might have a more flexible schedule.
5. Take an active role
Once you’ve found someone you think would be a great mentor, it’s important for you to take responsibility for the process. When you meet with him or her, bring a list of questions, but don’t expect your contact to have all of the answers. Research issues before you bring them up.
6. Be appreciative
Respect your mentor’s time and adhere to some basic business etiquette rules. Always arrive on time for meetings and keep in mind that while it’s OK to reach out to your mentor between formal meetings, don’t take advantage by constantly calling or emailing him or her. Show your appreciation, too. Send your mentor a thank-you note after a particularly helpful coaching session and always offer to provide any assistance you can in his or her career.
7. Think in the long term
You and your mentor may experience some growing pains, so give the relationship time to develop. However, don’t be discouraged if your initial mentorship doesn’t last. You will likely have several mentors throughout your career. It’s not uncommon to seek help from multiple people to address different aspects of work.
While it may require some effort to begin the mentoring process, the long-term rewards can be significant. Don’t overlook this valuable career resource. The guidance you receive will place you in a better position to achieve your professional goals.
Do you have a mentor — or do you serve as a mentor to others? What other pointers do you have for establishing an effective mentor relationship?