One of the best ways to learn the ropes at a new workplace or to take your career to the next level is by finding a mentor. Studies have shown that people with mentors earn higher salaries, are promoted more frequently, and report higher job satisfaction than those without. Some companies offer formal mentoring programs, while other mentor relationships may grow organically at work or school. But even if you’re not that lucky, you can still take the initiative to identify and recruit a career mentor. Here are five tips for finding the right one.
Know what you want
Before seeking out a mentor, take inventory of your career aspirations. Do you want to be the top Accounts Payable person in your company? Or is it your goal to be the CFO? Knowing where you want to be in one, five, ten, or even 20 years gives you an idea of who to approach.
Seek out people who not only have the job you want, but the skills you want to develop. Find individuals who make you think, “I wish I could do that.”
Consider the personality factor
Not everyone is well-suited to being a mentor. Look for someone who is patient, a good teacher, and communicative. Don’t be afraid to look outside of your current workplace. You may be able to connect with a mentor at a professional association, while volunteering with a non-profit organization, through your university’s alumni association, or even in your church or other social groups.
Test the waters by asking to meet up for coffee or lunch. At that initial meeting, ask specific questions about your potential mentor’s career, life, and interests to get a sense of your chemistry. If you receive vague answers, your personalities may not be the best fit.
A mentor doesn’t have to be one person who stays with you throughout the course of your career. In fact, in today’s complex work world, where the average employee stays at a job for just over four years, you may have several mentors over the course of a career.
Seek out a peer mentor to show you the ropes at a new workplace, a more experienced mentor to inspire you, and a networking mentor to show you how to make the right connections, among others. A network of people can act as your own personal board of directors, helping you learn and make the best decisions throughout your professional life.
Once you identify someone, be upfront about what you want. Maybe you just need an honest answer to your question. Or, maybe you want a longer-term relationship that allows you to learn and model the skills and techniques that helped your mentor excel. Make your requests direct and uncomplicated. Most people are happy to offer assistance when asked.
Nurture the mentor relationship(s)
When someone gives you their time, show gratitude. Be on time, give them your full attention, and express thanks at every opportunity.
Keep your mentor apprised of your success, especially if their guidance directly contributes to your results. Make it clear that you’re following through on their advice, so your mentor feels like they’ve invested their time wisely. Remember that networking is a two-way street, so look for opportunities to provide value to the relationship, as well. Perhaps you can recommend interesting books, share articles you think they’d find interesting, or introduce them to helpful people you know.
Remember, even if your company has a formal mentor program, mentorship isn’t handed to you. You need to ask good questions and be open to receiving honest feedback. The process of cultivating a professional mentorship may seem a little daunting, but it may be one of the most valuable resources you can tap into for guidance, support, and a fresh perspective on any issue.
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