When you're just emerging in an industry or you lack the experience needed to progress, you might feel self-conscious and wary of your endeavors. Sometimes, all you need in these moments is someone to look up to, someone who has been in your shoes yet created their own path to success.
"The modern mentor can elevate both your mind and your career in a way that cannot be taught in school, a boardroom or on a business trip," said Demetri Argyropoulos, CEO of Avant Global. "For me, mentorship has been an invaluable part of my career growth."
Although forming a mentor-mentee relationship must be a mutual process, there are some key factors to keep in mind as you seek a mentor. Mentoring and career experts offered their answers to questions entrepreneurs may have about choosing a mentor who's right for them. [See related article: Perfecting Your Mentoring Relationship]
What does a mentor do?
Whether you're the founder of a brand-new startup or an entrepreneur with a bit of business experience under your belt, you can always benefit from a mentor.
"A mentor can serve as a sounding board at critical points throughout your career," said Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing firm The Creative Group. "They can provide guidance on career management you may not be able to get from other sources and an insider's perspective on the business, as well as make introductions to key industry contacts."
Doña Storey, OPEN Mentorship Institute mentor and American Express OPEN advisor on procurement, noted that mentors can help their mentees identify and avoid business pitfalls, and work through the challenges ahead of them.
What qualities does a good mentor have?
At the most basic level, your mentor should have experience more significant than your own and a track record of success in what they do.
"A great mentor is someone whose qualities make up a much better version of who you envision yourself to become," said Argyropoulos. "On the other hand, some great mentors may help you to learn who not to be like – for example, a very successful businessman who is struggling in his personal life. Great mentors have a complementary skill set and bring different qualities to the table. Different perspectives are valuable in the mentor-mentee relationship."
Doug White, career expert and editor of career and management insights website TCG Blog, advised seeking a mentor who has a strong character and traits worth emulating.
"Look for mentors who are authentic, empathetic, creative and honest," said White. "You need someone who's caring and invested in your professional growth, but also someone who will speak truth to you. Sometimes you need some constructive criticism or a reality check, while other times you need a high five or pat on the back. A well-chosen mentor can provide all of those things."
A mentor in the same business area as yours may better understand your business's challenges and concerns, but Storey said that fruitful mentoring relationships don't necessarily have to happen within the same industry. Leadership philosophy may be more important, she said.
"Make sure that the mentor shares a similar value system in leadership and management," Storey said. "Knowing who you are as a leader is critical before entering into a mentoring relationship. Only then can you align yourself with the right guide."
How do you find one?
When you're looking for a mentor, start by thinking about your career path and narrowing it down to a few leaders who have your dream job or whom you admire, said Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps.
"Successful mentoring relationships happen when the mentor and mentee are the right match," Driscoll said. "Reach out to someone you think you are comfortable with, who can be a neutral sounding board, and [who] will also provide great advice."
It is possible that your perfect advisor could find you by chance and offer their mentorship, but Domeyer said that being proactive in your search for your mentor(s) is the best approach.
"Try to meet as many experienced professionals as you can," she told Business News Daily. "Once you've identified someone, approach your potential mentor and the initial meeting as you would an interview. Be prepared to explain what you hope to learn from the individual and why you value his or her insights and expertise, as well as what you bring to the table."
"Seek out someone who you want to emulate, who can help you in areas where you’re deficient in knowledge and skills," Argyropoulos added. "My most impactful mentor experiences evolved through sharing experiences and stories, and at some point, the mentee can also teach the mentor. You want to create an environment where you're paying that knowledge forward to others too."
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.