Career Advice: Finding and Working with Mentors

Close up view of two women shaking hands outdoorsOne of the things I really love about my work is seeing people succeed. No matter what stage of career you’re at, a mentor is something everyone can use when trying to take that next leap in potential. If you’re just starting out, a little guidance can help set you in the right direction and smooth the path to success. If you are further along in your career, a mentor can help you navigate the more complex choices that come up when you find yourself responsible not just for your own future, but for those of your employees and your company as a whole. Here are a few things to think about when finding a mentor.

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

Be clear on what you’re looking for from the arrangement. A mentor can advise on many areas, including:

  • Business strategy tips
  • Networking connections
  • A sympathetic, savvy ear to help with work/life balance

HOW DO YOU FIND A MENTOR?

  • When thinking about someone who can advise you, start close to home and then work outwards. Do you have a relative or close family friend who might be what you’re looking for?
  • Once you’ve exhausted your inner circle, look to your network of business contacts or to friends of friends. When you don’t already know someone who might be a proper mentor, tools like LinkedIn make it easy to see who you know that might be connected to an appropriate person.
  • Be courageous and approach a stranger! Research leaders in your chosen field, and approach them via email or social networking tools if they have an active online presence. While it can be intimidating to approach people you don’t know, especially when they are established in their field, your display of (respectful) moxie will be impressive and may be just what persuades them to talk or meet with you.
  • An alternate route to connecting with someone new? Volunteer. Working on cause that’s near and dear to your potential mentor’s heart can be a fantastic route to getting to know them. There’s nothing like working on a project together to bring two people closer together!
  • Investigate organizations that may be able to help you. Your local chamber of commerce can be a fantastic source of information about businesses in the area, and may even be able to facilitate an introduction. The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) offers free mentoring from retired business executives. Check with your college’s Alumni Relations office. It is in the best interests of your college or university to have successful graduates, and many have alumni groups or networking services set up to help their former students.

HOW DO YOU WORK WITH A MENTOR?

  • It’s important to be clear about your relationship. Once you and your mentor have established that you’re going to have an ongoing relationship, discuss and agree on some basic rules and expectations. This can include how often you will talk or meet and confidentiality.
  • A good mentor will – and should – challenge you. However, this can often feel like criticism. Avoid the temptation to get defensive every time your mentor offers a suggestion. If your he or she didn’t think you were smart or talented, your mentor would not take the time to work with you. Instead, try to move past your insecurities and really listen to what they have to say. After all, that’s why you wanted a mentor to begin with!

WHY WOULD SOMEONE HELP ME?

You may wonder why someone would take the time to mentor you. Everyone has their own reasons, but two of the most common are that they want to pay it forward, and that it helps them stay on top of new developments in their field. Don’t doubt yourself – a mentorship can be a mutually beneficial relationship, and you are worth it!

-Emma

 

 

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