Establishing a relationship with a mentor can bring a wealth of value throughout your career journey. While having the opportunity to benefit from the inspiration, advice and knowledge of a mentor can be valuable at any stage of your career, it is particularly powerful in the early stages.
Unlike any normal business contact, a mentor offers ongoing guidance and has a long-term investment in your future goals. A mentor will most likely hold a senior position and usually has a certain degree of influence and respect in their chosen industry. They may be in a position that you aspire to be in one day, or be at a level or have responsibilities that you admire. Whoever your mentor is, they will definitely have a wealth of experience that you can draw from as well as a long list of connections to share.
An ideal mentor is someone who:
- You respect and admire for the work they do.
- Works in a relevant industry to you, or where there is a crossover of skill set.
- Has reached a level of seniority that you aspire to.
- Is considered an expert and forward-thinking in their industry.
- Has a similar background as you (personally or professionally) so you can identify with one another.
- You have a good rapport with.
- Will commit to your development and is keen to impart knowledge.
- Is not afraid to offer honest, constructive feedback and advice.
- Is not directly in charge of you or supervising your work.
Establishing the mechanics of mentorship
A mentorship arrangement will operate differently for each individual pairing; there is no exact way to run it. Some organisations and institutes offer official, carefully-structured mentoring schemes but other mentoring relationships will work on a more informal basis. Overall, a mentor will provide a number of benefits to the mentee:
- Career advice and guidance on professional development.
- Constructive criticism and feedback on particular projects/career choices.
- Suggestions on how to build on strengths and overcome weaknesses.
- The opportunity to increase knowledge and develop new skills.
- Exposure to new and different ways of thinking.
- Introduction to useful contacts and organisations.
Finding a mentor
Before you reach out to a professional and ask them to be your mentor, think carefully about what you want to get out of a mentoring relationship. It is also important to make sure the mutual expectations of both parties are clearly aligned. Don’t be too over-zealous with a prospective mentor by demanding too much time and attention from them but rather talk openly about your aspirations and why you feel their guidance would be beneficial. Through honest discussion from the outset and setting up expectations, you can reach a mutually agreeable structure and time commitment.
There are a few routes to take to find a mentor:
- Formal, structured mentoring schemes may exist in your current company. If you don’t already know about them, check with the HR department for details.
- If you are going to set out to find a mentor on your own, get in touch with your existing professional networks. Professional social media tools such as LinkedIn can be a useful resource for searching a wide base of current and past contacts.
- Check in with your former education or training institutions; their alumni program might facilitate mentorship match-making.
- Be proactive with your contacts in asking for professional referrals wherever possible.
- Conduct desk based research on specific websites and independent schemes that help assist mentorships.