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 can help you navigate professional ups and downs and provide you with objective advice.
Not sure where to look for a professional mentor with many workers still remote and networking events going virtual? We recently spoke to female leaders at Robert Half to get their insights on the best strategies for making a mentor match during these times.
Alexandra Von Tiergarten, regional vice president
“Mentoring is about making a connection by sharing personal stories and enjoying getting to know more about someone,” Alexandra Von Tiergarten says. So, when looking for a mentor, try to find someone who has worked and advanced in your field. “A wall breaks down when I know someone did their research about me 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, senior district president
In today’s environment where everyone is connecting online, some women may not feel bold enough to start a conversation in a public forum, Kristina Marinovich says. If it’s a video call, look at participants’ surroundings as they enter the call and comment on something you may have in common with some of them — a poster for a local sports team or evidence of a similar hobby, for example. “Having someone become your mentor involves far more than that, of course, but you can slowly graduate from casual interactions to asking someone to talk offline with you,” she says.
Sparking a conversation with multiple people over time increases your odds of meeting the right person at the right time. Marinovich says that by continually meeting new people, you’ll naturally meet potential mentors for each phase of your life. “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 suggests leveraging your online experiences once we are all back in the office, taking advantage of your new conversation skills when riding the elevator or stopping at the snack bar in the lobby.
Brenda Arnold, regional vice president
Mentors have been beneficial to Brenda Arnold both professionally and personally. “I’ve selected mentors who showed a genuine interest in my well-being in addition to my career progression,” she says. Brenda explains that those relationships then develop organically since they start from a mutual concern for each other. “I’ve had critical discussions about my career with these mentors, and they’ve offered invaluable guidance and encouragement.”
Her list of mentors includes educators, family friends, colleagues, and former supervisors. “Early in my career, I scheduled regular meetings with my mentors as I believed they were essential to my professional growth,” she recalls.
What creative ways does she recommend for kindling a mentor relationship today? “Virtual meetings, sending holiday and birthday cards, LinkedIn comments about recent successes like awards or promotions are excellent options for ongoing communication,” according to Brenda. Her advice is to always express appreciation for your mentor’s positive impact on your career choices. “A little kindness goes a long way,” she shared.
Michelle Reisdorf, senior regional vice president
Advice from Michelle Reisdorf strikes a similar note. While she understands that approaching prospective mentors can be intimidating, she advises trying to put yourself out there anyway. First, she says, commit to asking every person you encounter at a virtual 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 we schedule some time to chat?”
To find a mentor, Reisdorf recommends looking for organizations that meet regularly, even if it’s virtually only for now, 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. Once these events are again taking place in person, you may need to attend a few luncheons before you find the right organization for you. Start with a few icebreakers, she recommends, such as “Have you attended these events previously?” or “What do you like about this group and how long have you been involved?”
Kathy Downs, senior vice president
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 best 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 that 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 virtual networking event or emailing an interesting article are great ways to slowly build rapport. A one-on-one conversation may not happen right away.
How can you make a great impression when you do land that first call with a would-be mentor? By being well-prepared, organized and intentional from the start, Fay offers. “Do your homework and know specifically what you want to ask,” she 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 early last year and the tables turned. Fay 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.