You have the drive. Your experience and background have helped you advance so far. You’ve even made a habit of keeping in contact with colleagues from the past. But for some odd reason, you now find yourself at a point where you’re not seeing the results you’d hoped in your career.
We’ve got three words for you: find a mentor.
A mentor is that one person who will take you under his or her wing and guide you through all the trials and tribulations of your professional life. This person helps you improve the quality of your decisions, increases the breadth of your skills, and provides opportunities that wouldn’t likely be available otherwise.
Finding the Ideal Mentor
Unfortunately, many people aren’t sure exactly how to go about finding a mentor — and an ideal one, at that. They start there searching thinking they need a seasoned professional who’s been in the business for years. While this is often the case, your choice in mentor isn’t about age so much as who will best suit your needs — and suit your needs at that particular time.
So, we suggest you consider the following when looking for someone to help you grow your career:
1. Clarify your needs.
The more you know about yourself, the easier it’ll be to find the right person to fill the role. Take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses to help decide what you need to learn and where you need to grow.
Doing a little legwork up front can help you identify the types of qualities in a mentor that would be most beneficial to you at this point in your career. Is it someone with expertise in a certain field? Is it someone with lots of connections in your chosen industry?
Besides the obvious, consider what kind of mentor will work best with your personality, if you’ll want a good listener, or need someone who’s been down your particular road before, like switching careers or moving from one specific role to another.
2. Look to those closest to you.
When looking to fill the role of mentor, begin your search close to home, like family and friends, before extending out into your network. For example, you may find someone perfect for you through a mutual friend or colleague.
If you’re still unable to nail down a mentor, consider attending business associations in your area, joining community groups, or volunteering for nonprofit organizations. As you get to know the members, you’ll likely find someone who fits the bill.
3. Set your expectations.
People enter into a professional arrangement with expectations of the other party. Mentorship is no different. Set some expectations for a mentor to help you focus on your need and narrow down your options further.
And once you find someone who agrees to mentor you, you’ll also be able to clearly explain your expectations of the relationship. The other person will then better understand the time commitment, topics for discussion, and goals for a successful mentorship.
4. Schedule a few meetings.
Doing a few informational interviews is completely normal when in search of a mentor. Sit down with your top candidates to determine who meets your criteria – and is eager and available to be your mentor.
By assessing the attributes of each potential mentor, in tandem with your needs as a mentee (not to mention the chemistry between yourself and the other person), the ideal candidate will inevitably emerge.
Don’t get discouraged if finding a mentor takes longer than you think. Not everyone will want to take on this responsibility. After all, mentorship is a time commitment. It can also be emotionally taxing for the other person. He or she has essentially invested in your career success.
Bolstering Your Professional Potential
But if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. You will find someone who’s more than happy to tell you the hard truths, share his or her wisdom, and guide you toward your career goals. And when they do, you’ll find yourself reaping the benefits in many ways, including:
- Feedback. Besides maybe your manager, you have few opportunities to receive honest feedback. But the most rewarding aspect of your mentor’s feedback is that it entails more than just job performance and can touch on communication, leadership, and other skills.
- Practical advice. Mentors can provide you practical advice on not just your career or how to succeed at your job but salary negotiations, networking, and even dealing with difficult people in the workplace.
- Skills. If you’re selective in your choice of mentor (or mentors), you have the chance to learn very specific skills relevant to your professional and personal goals. Mentors often will suggest ways in which you can improve in a particular area or two.
- Credibility. Because your mentor has likely earned a certain amount of respect, his or her credibility will inevitably rub off on you. Your association with this person affects other people’s regard of you and your abilities.
- Opportunities. Mentors often know of job openings within an industry. As they learn your strengths and goals, they’re more apt to forward you opportunities — it’s not what you know but who, as they say
Behind even the most successful person, you will likely find a person was essential in getting him or her there. So no matter where you are in your career, find a mentor. It’s a proven method for reaching your career goals — and reaching them much faster than you would before.