September 15, 2015

Finding a Mentor That’s Right For You

Flickr CC via Jeremy Wilburn

A mentor is a guide and counselor who provides career advice and support. This relationship—also a process—often involves a younger person seeking out the guidance of a more experienced employee or supervisor.

In some cases, a mentor provides this service as way to do good or “pay it forward.” Perhaps someone in their past took the time to help them out in their career development, and to honor the kindness and help they received, they seek to share their abilities with someone new.

Some schools, companies, and social organizations may have formal mentorship programs that match a more experienced person with a less experienced person.

One of the keys to a successful mentor and mentee relationship is enthusiasm. You should only pursue start the process if you’re honestly interested in developing your professional skills and committed to paying attention to the lessons a mentor has to offer. Before you seek out a mentor, review your goals and expectations.

A Mentorship Self Review

What do you want to learn from a mentor?

A mentor could teach you about the qualities required to be a good leader. A mentor might also teach you a technical skill—how to master a piece of sophisticated software—that will also take time to learn. A mentor could coach you on professional skills related to sales and business. Before you approach a potential mentor you need to know what you expect to learn and communicate those expectations to your mentor.

Are you ready to go back to “school”?

Finding a mentor and improving your professional skills is a great idea. You need to listen to what your mentor says and do what they tell you to do. It’s a bit like being back in school because you must be willing to follow their orders. You have to do your “homework” or you’re wasting your time and—even worse—your mentor’s time.

Do you have the time to commit to learning something new right now? Calculate the amount of time you’ll work with your mentor weekly. Figure out how much time you’ll need to study and practice your new skills. You’re going to need to schedule time for reading and studying. To sum it all up—do you have time to work with a mentor and commit to learning a new skill?

Important Qualities to Look for in a Mentor

Wisdom This quality covers a lot of ground. You want to find someone with experience that relates to your career path. But, more than that, you want someone who has the ability to review their own experience and pick out lessons that are important to share. The mentor needs to be able to identify key lessons insights that you will be able to learn from.

Authentic Working with a mentor involves an honest exchange of information, questions and answers, and sharing experiences. You’ll learn about your mentor. Your mentor will learn about you. He or she should be interested in hearing about your experiences, interests, and questions. If your potential mentor is only interested in telling stories about their success, you won’t have an authentic experience. It’s a waste of your time.

Trustworthy Asking someone to become your mentor can be risky. You might approach someone who you’ve worked with closely in the past and whose character you understand. You may also recognize that there is a colleague from another department or someone you know from your professional community. Working with them in an honest way may require that you confide in them and share some of your professional ideas and work experiences. Is the mentor you have in mind worthy of your trust?

Engaged You’re selecting a mentor based on their knowledge and experience. You’ll benefit most from a mentor whose experience is informed by a complete understanding of past and current practices in your industry. You want to improve your skills and build your mastery of a skill or process. This isn’t a history lesson. Your mentor must be engaged, open-minded, and love learning just as much as you do.

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