How to Find, Approach, and Engage Mentors

Life is full of advice on how to go it alone or tips for making it as a lone wolf or for generally reducing your reliance on anything and everyone on the “outside”.  While this questionable advice may be all fine and dandy for building a strong character and for helping develop independence, in the career world it can be problematic.

Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro, having a mentor in your career of choice can be a huge boost towards professional and personal growth.  From CEO’s to assistant level positions, there is a ton to be gained from regularly speaking to someone who’s “been there, done that”. Just how do you go about not only developing a mentorship relationship but also maintaining and nurturing it to success?  Read on to find out.

Set Your Mentorship Goals

Another overused saying with a solid ring of truth goes something like “time is money.”  Don’t waste this most valuable resource by putting the cart before the horse and seeking out a mentor before you’ve established your purpose in doing so.  

Do you want to learn more about an industry?  Maybe there are skills that you feel like developing such as leadership or networking?  Each of these are areas where a mentor in your field may come in handy. Identify a list of goals before you find a career mentor and you’ll not only maximize your benefit from the relationship but you’ll also be respecting the knowledge and insights of the individual you’ll be communicating with.

Identify a Good Mentor

When it comes to valuable advice and insights, not all mentors are created equal.  The person you choose to ask for guidance should be someone you respect with a great deal of experience you think you can benefit from.  

Obvious choices for mentors are prior managers, teachers or coworkers or individuals you have become familiar with via networking events.  There are also plenty of local organizations set up solely for the purpose of connecting mentors with those ready, willing and able to learn.  Use resources such as church groups, community organizations or industry mailing lists. Your college alumni office may also maintain a list of previous graduates who have offered to be mentors to those in need.

Developing a Relationship with Your Mentor

The next step towards getting the most out of your mentor/mentee arrangement is to build up a solid relationship with your chosen career guide.  Depending on the industry and your prior familiarity with your mentor, this process can take many forms and have particular hurdles.

If your mentor is a friend or family member or someone that you’ve had a social relationship with, in the past, it may be important to help set the tones for your mentoring get-togethers.  If you schedule a dinner, try to avoid happy hour spots where you commiserate over drinks. Focus on quick coffee breaks or communication via email until you’ve set a routine and have redefined the times you discuss work.  If you remain in a social relationship with the person, schedule separate friend events and get-togethers to keep both relationships strong and differentiate between work and play.

If you weren’t previously acquainted with your mentor, spend a little bit of time getting to know them before delving into the serious questions.  Engaging and learning about your mentor is not only a sign of respect, but it will also help develop a personal connection and sense of trust, both of which are critical when it comes to the expert professional career advice.  

Express admiration for your mentor’s accomplishments as a way of letting them know you value their achievements and advice.  This may involve performing basic internet or industry research ahead of your first meeting or spending the majority of your first meeting delving into their history and career trajectory.

Being a Worthy Mentee

After you’ve picked a mentor and have settled on the when, where and how details for your regular meetings, it isn’t the time to sit back and rest on your laurels.  Mentees should be appreciative and respectful of their mentor’s time. This means showing up on time and prepared with questions and loose agendas of what you’d like to accomplish both in your career and over the course of the mentor relationship.

Discuss with your mentor topics that you’d like to cover, keeping the individual meeting agendas to one or two key points.  Ask questions and engage with the answers. Remember that your mentee is honoring you with their willingness to share information and help you along in your career and treat the mentorship experience as such.

Be sure to thank your mentor for their time.  A little appreciation is not only deserved but goes a long way towards furthering the relationship and trust.  If you’re gaining ground in your career or have experienced progress in small ways over the course of your mentorship, feel free to share.  A quality mentor will appreciate knowing that their guidance has had a positive impact and will enjoy sharing in your successes.

Paying it Forward

As a final note of advice, while mentorships are generally free and out of the kindness of your mentor’s heart, monetary compensation isn’t the only way to pay someone back for their time and commitment.  Consider paying the deed forward by mentoring someone junior to yourself, either now or in the future. Keep in touch with your mentor and share both your personal stories and your mentorship stories to help continue the legacy of providing a helping hand up in the career department.

Have a positive mentorship story you’d like to share?  Be sure to drop us a comment on how being a mentor or mentee has helped you grow and any tips you have for how to make the most of the process.

Article Updated from the Original on May 15, 2018