Finding the Right Mentor
Q: From books, seminars and friends, I’ve learned that having a
mentor can be very valuable to my career. Yet I have yet to hear any
practical advice in how to find and collaborate with one. Do you
have some tips on how to identify and develop a relationship with
someone who knows the ropes and wants to share their wisdom?
Many successful mentors and mentees would agree that finding a
mentor can be the most important step in achieving a satisfying
career. Professionals who don’t have a guru wish they did.
Unfortunately, the process for cultivating a bond with this special
person is both mystifying and a little scary.
are some important attributes you should look for in selecting the
She/he must be available and willing to spend time with you. All
of the great advice in the world won't do you any good unless
you have ready access to it.
Your mentor should have a
healthy self-image. Self-confident people are willing to suggest
new approaches. They make good leaders. And they revel in your
success as a reflection of their mentoring ability. You
certainly don't want advice from someone who will be intimidated
by your increasing stature and expertise.
They should be highly respected
in their organization and their community. With respect comes
contacts and access to their network of peers. Often mentoring
involves putting you together with others who can help you
achieve your goals.
Good mentors have a facility
for helping you to focus on where you want to go. They should
possess a global view and be able to see beyond their own area
of responsibility. Embracing your mentor's vision of the big
picture will help you to move to a new situation when the time
Forthright communication is
also important. Your mentor should feel comfortable discussing
your flaws as well as your talents. She or he should be
empathetic, willing to admit to an occasional mistake or lack of
information, adept at asking probing questions and eager to
serve as a source of support, encouragement, problem solving
ideas and atta' boys (girls).
A little discretion can go a
long way. It's best if your conversations are confidential, and
your mentor is regarded as someone who knows how to keep his
mouth shut. Gossips are rarely privy to the most important
Keep in mind the importance of
both company and community visibility. You may find your mentor
through volunteer work, classes, your company’s United Way
you know who to look for, you must frequent places where you're most
likely to find him. As you might expect, your workplace is a good
While your immediate supervisor should be a logical mentoring
choice, she may not be the best one. Before you latch onto your
boss, take a look at the political climate in your department. Are
your peers likely to feel slighted if your manager becomes your
personal mentor? Is your supervisor someone who has respect and
contacts throughout the company? If you can comfortably answer,
"no," to the first question and "yes" to the second, then proceed to
build a mentoring relationship.
Should your boss not be a good fit, you might consider someone a
couple of levels higher than you. He may be affiliated with your
area or in a completely different one. A financial analyst who has a
mentor in sales, may gain exposure to a perspective that another
numbers person wouldn't have.
companies with more advanced human resource systems foster mentoring
relationships by helping to pair neophytes with old pros. To see if
your firm has such a program, talk to someone in HR whom you trust.
friends are another good source of information. They may have
friends or acquaintances who would enjoy being your "Yoda."
course, there are also the community and fraternal associations you
would typically use in networking for a job. Churches, Chambers of
Commerce, professional organizations representing your career or
industry, non-profit committees or boards of directors, alumni
groups, political parties, conventions, workshops, newspaper
articles, and professors from local colleges are all excellent
resources for identifying mentors.
your quest for the perfect mentor also keep your eyes open for
seasoned veterans who show strong interest in you. The mentor
relationship is a two way street. Mentors look for mentees
you identify your candidate, how do you begin the relationship?
Consider the direct approach: call or talk to him in person; say
you've been watching his career, like his ideas and work style and
would appreciate the opportunity to develop a mentoring friendship
with them. Most people will respect your initiative and feel
complimented by your selection.
Should this method seem a bit forward, ask a mutual friend to serve
as an intermediary, who will enthusiastically introduce you to your
potential mentor. Coming highly recommended by a trusted colleague
should boost your confidence sufficiently to follow through in
developing the relationship.