How to Find Professional Mentorship
Early in your career, work relationships tend to follow a set script—your boss tells you to do something and you do it. Any on-the-job training that you may get is typically focused on the job at hand, but does very little to guide or prepare you towards “what’s next”. Within traditional organizations, there was once a set path towards management, but our modern, global workplace is much less prescribed. There are many paths that one can take and it’s hard to know where to focus your efforts.
An often untapped source of guidance is mentorship. According to a survey by the American Society for Training and Development, 75% of private sector executives said that mentoring had been critical in helping them reach their current position. It can be a valuable tool at any point in your career.
What is a good mentorship relationship?
A successful mentorship can be fluid, but at the core are collaboration, commitment, respect, trust, and clear goals. Mentors, like coaches, nurture your talents, provide direction, and ask the right questions, but are not there to simply tell you what to do. A good mentor will help you set short-term and long-term goals, provide encouragement, and give advice. A mentor offers the benefit of their experience and connections and can help you develop key skills and workplace tactics.
What a good mentor relationship is not like is a therapy session or a fast track up the corporate ladder. While you can look to your mentor for support, your time with him or her shouldn’t be spent complaining or whining. A mentor can introduce you to the right people, but you should never expect them to hand you an opportunity or pave the way. You have to earn those on your own.
Where do you find a mentor?
Many companies and universities have formal mentorship programs. However it may be tough to find a mentor when you are at a startup, work for a smaller company, or freelance. But it’s not impossible. You just have to be open-minded and clear on your objectives. Fortunately, good mentors can be found anywhere.
The first step is to tap any former or current employers. Even if they do not offer a program, the HR department or leadership may be able to direct you to a local business program. Organizations like the International Mentoring Network Organization or SCORE can pair you with a mentor online. Great mentors can be found at nonprofits, churches, and community groups too. You may even want to consider a family member or friend.
Who should be my mentor?
This is a big question! As with any relationship, it has to start with mutual compatibility, admiration, integrity, and respect. You want to find someone who “gets” you and can be sympathetic yet honest. Can you see yourself as being like them one day or just aspire to be? Are they well-regarded in their field? Can they be trusted to be discreet and respectful of your privacy?
Ideally, a mentor is far enough in their own career that they can provide perspective on where you are in yours, but not so far along that they are out of touch. A mentor-mentee relationship begins a bit unbalanced with the mentor having the bulk of the skills, knowledge, and experience, but over time there should be a sense of reciprocity. If you are truly lucky, it could develop into a lasting and personal friendship.
Bay Area marketing consultant, Jennifer Carole, found herself in a mentorship that blossomed in to a 20 year-long friendship.“It turns out I had skills she didn't have which has led to more mutuality over the years and sealed our friendship,” says Carole.
How do you get started?
As with all things, it starts with the ask. Speak up. Let them know.
Once someone agrees to be your mentor, be upfront with your expectations and goals. There has to be a commitment of time and consistency on both sides. Meeting for one hour once a week is a good arrangement, but if you can only meet once a month, then so be it. It is on you, the mentee, to make sure that any time spent is as useful, effective, and beneficial as possible.
As a mentee, your part of the relationship is to come to meetings prepared and focused. Jodi Grundig, Editor at Family Travel Magazine, imparts this advice on making a mentor-mentee relationship worthwhile for both sides: “I went in to the meetings with a specific, written agenda of what I wanted to discuss. That way, the meeting was focused and my mentor felt that his time was well spent… As a mentor, I was happy to help out my mentees, but when the meetings were unstructured I felt I wasn't as effective.”
Who have your best mentors been along your career and life path?