Finding a mentor isn’t a new idea, but it never hurts to remember how important it is to have an advocate in your career. The importance of having someone not only to model yourself after, but to advocate for you and help you make smart choices early in your career cannot be overstated.
If you’re lucky and work at an organization that knows how beneficial mentors are, woohoo! Many of these places have a program in place. If not, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. It just means you’ll have to take more initiative.
It may sound terrifying, but just take a deep breath, because the worst they can do is say “no.” And remember, you don’t have to walk up and ask someone to be a mentor. Find someone who seems like a good candidate, ask for some time, and keep it simple. Show them you’re confident. Show them you’re serious. A question like, “Do you have any advice for how I can grow my skills?” can get the conversation started.
These are the things that will be most important in your search for and develop a relationship with your mentor.
Find someone who you can connect with and, who cares about you.
It doesn’t need to be professional ‘love at first sight,’ but you should connect with and feel comfortable with your mentor. And, they should care about you too. You should get the sense that they are not just doing this because you asked. Your personal and professional development should mean something to them too.
Do you feel like you are a priority to them?
Ideally, your mentor will be thinking about how to work with and help you even when you’re not together. Do they follow through with you? Moving meetings is unavoidable, but if it happens all the time, you need to ask yourself if your mentor is making you enough of a priority? Do you get the sense that they are present with you when you’re meeting?
Find someone willing to be honest with you, and who you can be honest with as well.
This isn’t just about delivering honest feedback, although that is paramount. It’s also about challenges. Your mentor should be able to present challenges to you as a mentee, because you have been honest with them about where you are and what you need. They should be able to point out the things that you may not be able to see about yourself, and you both need to be candid and frank as you move forward.
This is where your connection comes into play. In some ways, it is harder to give negative feedback to someone you care about because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. But negative feedback is often easier to hear when it is delivered from someone you know has your best interests at heart. By developing a connection with your mentor, you’re creating a relationship and environment in which you can be honest enough with each other to really grow and develop.
Find someone who is willing to advocate and network on your behalf.
This is pretty straightforward, but hugely important. You need a mentor who is not only willing to give you advice and help you plan for your professional future, but also someone who is willing to put themselves out there for you. If you feel like your mentor isn’t doing this, approach them about it. Ask if there are people that they think would be helpful and valuable for you to connect with.
If they don’t seem willing to make the introduction, consider moving on or asking them why. It may be that there are areas of your performance that still need work before they go to bat for you. Mentoring isn’t just about advice, but connections and networking as well, so you and your mentor should both be taking advantage of that.
Find someone who can bring their experience to life for you.
This doesn’t just mean giving your mentor a chance to relive their glory days, but for them to show you what they’ve learned from their years and experiences. It’s not always easy, but it is important for a mentor to not only be able to provide information or exposition, but to engage and inspire, you about what they know and how they got where they are. This is why finding a connection is really important too, because if you don’t care about your mentor, you’re not going to want to hear about their experiences or learn from them.
Turning an experience into a story that has a purpose, makes a point, and maybe even has a moral (like overcoming obstacles is one of the keys to success) is a powerful way to engage and learn from someone.
Nora is a co-founder of Happy Spectacular, which she still can't really believe, and she's on a lifelong quest for the world's best cheeseburger (applicants accepted).