Typically, the mentor is someone who is in a position you are working towards and a person whose working style you admire. The goal is to improve your skills and hopefully advance your career, but a mentoring relationship can and should be professionally and personally rewarding for both parties. So how do you answer the question, “How do I find a mentor?”
Value of a Mentor
A mentor isn’t just your average network contact; a mentor has a long-term commitment and investment in your future. Mentors can provide valuable career advice, open up a network of resources, and even collaborate with you on projects.
Like the old adage says, never be the smartest person in the room. A mentor gives you the chance to learn from the first-hand knowledge and experience you lack. A mentor has likely ‘been there’, ‘done that’ and can help you avoid pitfalls they made early on in their own career. Never underestimate the importance of constructive criticism, especially when it comes to soundboarding your ideas. Sometimes another perspective is all you need to boost your thinking in the right direction.
When faced with specific issues in the workplace, a fresh perspective helps you learn to communicate more effectively, perhaps even creating shortcuts in your work — you don’t want to be ‘reinventing the wheel’ when it comes to your career.
Perhaps most importantly, a mentor can provide a warm introduction to contacts and resources that wouldn’t otherwise be at your disposal. A mentor is far more than just a great connection, they should believe in you and have the unique ability to introduce you with the right people at the right time.
How to Find Your Perfect Mentor?
Finding a mentor isn’t easy, the best ones are busy with their own careers and getting asked out to coffee all the time. Potential mentors would be drowning in lattes if they said yes to each request, so how do you stand apart in your approach?
A mentor isn’t going to fall into your lap. Very few people are motivated out of pure goodwill to meet up with you, especially if they don’t know how you work or how investing their time in you will be beneficial. For this reason, the best possible way to find a mentor is through building on a interaction you already have.
Perhaps this is someone who works within your company, or someone you’ve met at an industry event. If that’s not possible, establishing a relationship with someone you’ve never met is a feasible, albeit much more difficult, idea.
How to Add Value
Why should she care? That’s what you have to ask yourself when trying to get a mentor. What is it about you that makes you worth her time? And what can you add to her career?
The latter is much more difficult to answer, but probably the most important thing to consider. What can you, even in your early career, offer someone who is already established? One option is to follow your potential mentor’s work closely, promote it and support it by furthering conversations (via LinkedIn, retweeting, commenting on blogs, etc).
Another way is to offer them perspective that they can’t (or might have trouble getting) elsewhere. The number of teenagers I know is really low. So if a teenage reached out and was able to offer insights on how he thinks when it comes to technology and new mobile apps, that’s valuable to me. Make yourself a positive asset to this person before approaching
Do You Have to Ask?
Is finding a mentor like finding a “girlfriend” in middle school? Do you have to ask them to be your mentor? I say no. Just like dating, there will be a mutual attachment that can be sensed by both parties. You’ll set up times for coffee on a monthly or quarterly basis. Each time, you’ll have increasingly specific topics to discuss.
To be courteous of a mentor’s time, come into each meeting on-time and with a mental agenda. Make sure you’re ready for a hard stop at 30 or 60 minutes. I’ve never been in a meeting that lasted longer than that. Lastly, be sure not to overstep your bounds and email your mentor every day for tiny bits of advice.
Remember, this person is supporting you professionally but they are not necessarily a friend (though they can be or blossom into one). Treat your mentor professionally and with the utmost respect, and never waste their time by complaining or going off topic during a meeting. They’re not your therapist. For this relationship to work, you need to put your best professional self forward as an enjoyable mentee. This means supporting the work of others around you, offering your participation where appropriate, and always demonstrating passion for what you do.
A mentor can be an invaluable resource to you and your career. But they don’t come to you like an Uber. You have to take the initiative to not just find one, but also prove that you’re worth her time. It takes time. But when you find the right person, you can have a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship for years to come.