Whether you’re at the beginning of your professional life, reentering the workforce after a long absence or looking to further advance an already successful career, a mentor can play an important role in helping you reach your goals. A carefully selected mentor with a proven track record of success can help you navigate professional ups and downs and provide you with objective advice.
Not sure where to begin looking for a professional mentor? We recently spoke to female leaders at Robert Half to get their insights on the best strategies for making a mentor match.
Alexandra Von Tiergarten, regional vice president
“Mentoring is about making a connection through personal stories and enjoying getting to know more about someone,” Alexandra Von Tiergarten says. So, when looking for a mentor, she advises doing your homework. “A wall breaks down when I know someone did their research and is asking me questions specific to my background.”
With shared interests as a starting point, Von Tiergarten suggests beginning your mentor search within your peer group, your college alumni network or people you simply admire. The key is to find someone who has traveled the road to success you would like to be on.
Kristina Marinovich, district president
In today’s digital age where everyone is connecting online, Kristina Marinovich suggests simply talking to each other. The issue is that some women may not feel bold enough to strike up a conversation, Marinovich says. If you lack confidence in approaching people, she says, practice starting a conversation in your own building when riding the elevator or stopping at the snack bar in the lobby. “You can connect on a shared experience like noticing you work on the same floor or you take your coffee the same way,” Marinovich explains. Having someone become your mentor involves far more than that, of course, but it will eventually help you when you actually ask someone to serve as your mentor. You can graduate from casual interactions to networking events in your field.
Not only that, but the more people you meet in real life, Marinovich adds, the more connections you make, which increases your odds of meeting the right person at the right time. “Life is all about timing,” she says. “What you want out of your career today, may be completely different 10 or 20 years from now.” She says by continually meeting new people, you will naturally meet potential mentors for each phase of your life.
Michelle Reisdorf, regional vice president
Advice from Michelle Reisdorf strikes a similar note. While she understands that approaching prospective mentors can be intimidating, she advises putting yourself out there. First, she says, commit to asking every person you meet at a networking event the same one or two questions about their careers. You may only get a few minutes with each attendee so be prepared. “It’s fine to ask the same question since you may get completely different answers each time,” she says. Those answers can guide your decision on which potential mentors to follow up with via email or a LinkedIn message.
You might write, for example, “While our interaction was brief, I was really intrigued with what you had to say. I’d love to learn more from you, maybe in a mentoring situation if you feel you have the time. Could I take you out for coffee sometime?”
To find a mentor, Reisdorf recommends looking for organizations that meet regularly and to develop relationships within the group. When she relocated to Chicago, Reisdorf found an organization for executive-level professionals. In addition to connecting with her peer group, she took advantage of a 10-month mentoring program offered by the organization. You may need to attend a few luncheons before you find the right organization for you. “Start with a few icebreakers, such as `Have you attended these events previously?’ or `What do you like about this group and how long have you been involved?’” she recommends.
Kathy Downs, recruiting manager
Never stop looking to grow and improve as a professional, says Kathy Downs. At a mentoring event a few years back, Downs began chatting with one of the women seeking a mentor at her table. The woman was extremely poised and engaging. Downs soon realized she was a former Miss America. “It goes to show that even if someone seems to have reached the pinnacle of her career, she still has the desire to better herself and learn from other successful people,” she explains.
That desire to continually improve is the common thread Downs sees in the people she has mentored. “Everyone has a different story and I connect with people who are open and honest,” she says. She recalled meeting a woman who ran a nonprofit who expressed concern that her skill set over the long-term might not be attractive to potential employers. Downs assured her that there are many ways to build one’s skills. “Any sort of work you give your all and dedicate your time to is relevant,” Downs says.
Dawn Fay, senior district president
When it comes to finding a mentor, Dawn Fay stresses the importance of respecting people’s busy schedules. She says securing a mentor can be done in steps: Connecting on LinkedIn, sharing news about an upcoming network event or emailing an interesting article are great ways to slowly build rapport. A meeting may not happen right away.
How can you make a great impression when you do land that first meeting with a would-be mentor?
By being well-prepared, organized and intentional from the start. “Do your homework and know specifically what you want to ask,” Fay says. “This shows you appreciate the value of someone’s time.”
Fay references her relationship with a long-time mentee as an example of how a relationship can keep giving back. At first, they met twice a quarter and then only when some quick advice was needed. But they kept in touch. Fast forward to today and the tables have turned. Fay recently reached out to her mentee regarding a new wellness program for her team. The mentee, who now works for an organization focused on health, offered to bring along a few coworkers and give tips to her staff.
Whether you’re looking for a mentor or are ready to become one, there is no doubt that the experience can be a positive one for both parties.