- A mentor is a seasoned professional who informally guides a less experienced person in their professional endeavors.
- A mentor should always have the mentee’s best interests in mind and tailor their mentorship style to meet that person’s needs.
- Find an experienced mentor in your network and industry whose leadership and management values you respect.
- This article is for professionals seeking mentors to help them develop their skills and careers.
Personal and professional development is essential no matter your career stage. However, if you have limited career experience, you may sometimes feel overwhelmed navigating your career path and industry.
Mentorship is a way to hone professional skills and learn invaluable lessons from someone with years or decades of practical knowledge in your field.
If you’re considering finding a mentor to help with your day-to-day job requirements and long-term career goals, we’ll show you what to look for, how to find one and how to forge a successful relationship that benefits you both.
Peer mentoring is a mentor relationship where both parties have similar experience levels, offering advice to and learning from each other.
What is a mentor?
Mentorship is a mutually beneficial professional relationship in which an experienced individual (the mentor) imparts knowledge, expertise and wisdom to a less experienced person (the mentee) while simultaneously honing their mentoring skills.
An effective mentor can guide the mentee professionally while maintaining a friendly and supportive relationship. A mentor should always have the mentee’s best interests in mind and tailor their mentorship style to meet their needs.
Anyone looking for a mentor should follow three best practices:
- Have a clear goal. Define your career and set achievable business goals. Understand what you must learn to reach your goals.
- Take a businesslike approach. Approach a mentor relationship as if it’s a business friendship. Be casual and friendly, and try not to ask awkward questions like “Will you be my mentor?”
- Look for a mentor in your professional network. You may already have a mentor in your professional network who provides advice in various ways. All it takes is a little effort to grow that connection into an ongoing relationship.
A mentor is different from a career coach. Career coaching is generally a short-term paid relationship where a coach uses thought-provoking and creative strategies to help the client develop personally or professionally.
What does a mentor do?
Whether you are starting a business, are beginning your career or have some business experience under your belt, you can benefit from a mentor.
“A mentor can serve as a sounding board at critical points throughout your career,” said Diane Domeyer Kock, senior vice president and managing director of managed creative solutions at Robert Half. “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, an 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.
Vicki Salemi, a career expert for popular job search platform Monster, pointed out that when we’re immersed in our own careers, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Mentors are essential, especially early in your career. Mentors should be people other than your boss, and they should provide insight on getting ahead and support your overall goals.
How to find a mentor
Finding a mentor can be an organic process, but it’s essential to be proactive and set yourself up for a successful mentorship relationship. Here are some tips:
- Determine what you want from your career. The first step to finding a mentor is defining what you want out of your career. You don’t have to plan your entire career path, because opportunities and unexpected directions may arise. Instead, define what you want in the short term to give you a clear path forward.
- Pinpoint who has your dream job. Consider your career path and narrow it down so you can determine who has your dream job and whom you admire, said Bill Driscoll, senior district president of technology staffing services in the Northeast and Midwest at Robert Half. “Successful mentoring relationships happen when the mentor and mentee are the right match. Reach out to someone you think you are comfortable with who can be a neutral sounding board and [who] will also provide great advice.”
- Examine your professional circle. People in your professional circle can include former bosses, former professors or teachers, co-workers in another department, people you met at an internship program, and family friends.
- Look for people who understand your role and industry. Seek out someone with a general idea of your current role and industry who will be able to advise you on things like new projects, certifications and training you need to get ahead, as well as how to handle office politics within your organization.
Once you’re ready to reach out to someone, it’s important to keep things casual. Salemi said that your approach to a potential mentor should be the same as it would be to a potential friend – your relationship will develop over time. Don’t force things; stay relaxed. Lessons and advice will come with time.
“It’s not like you’ll be at a conference and chat with someone sitting next to you and say, ‘Oh, will you be my mentor?'” Salemi said. “It’s a process. It’s kind of like when you think about friends in your life, how you met them, and how maybe over the period of a year or so you’ve gotten to become really good friends … in the beginning, you didn’t say, ‘Will you be my friend?’ That would be completely awkward.”
To find a mentor, define your career goals, identify your role models, narrow down people in your network and industry, and casually form professional relationships that have room to grow.
Why you should consider working with a mentor
A mentor can be a valuable asset, especially for young, aspiring entrepreneurs and those new to the business world. There are several benefits to working with a mentor.
1. Mentorship offers you a new perspective from a seasoned professional.
Learning from someone more experienced is an invaluable business opportunity, whether you’ve just started your first job or are halfway through your career. As we slip into the day-to-day routine of working life, it’s easy to get lost in the moment. A mentor can reset our perspective so we can see our careers and growth from a new vantage point.
Ryan Holiday, an author and career expert, told us that finding a mentor starts with working hard and developing a personal reputation of success. By focusing on your role and career, you can set yourself up to connect with more seasoned business professionals, who will see your talent and want to help you grow.
“Powerful people are constantly on the lookout for talented young people; they cannot find enough of them,” Holiday said. “To develop a reputation as someone who is teachable, curious, motivated, talented and, above all, well balanced and reliable is the single best way to attract a mentor. As Sheryl Sandberg said, ‘It’s not find a mentor, and you will do well; it’s do well, and a mentor will find you.'”
2. Mentorship is an informal way to get valuable guidance.
Understanding the nature of a mentor-mentee relationship is crucial. Salemi notes that mentors and mentees should realize the connection doesn’t always have to be an intense, formal arrangement. It’s better to focus on maintaining the professional relationship and learning what you can.
“It’s an ongoing dialogue conversation, and it’s a relationship that’s not going to completely overhaul your life,” Salemi said.
Finding a mentor means learning to follow up appropriately, add value to your mentor’s life and career, and be proactive in your career growth. These lessons can apply to any worker at any stage of their career, but they’re especially critical for young professionals who are new to an industry or who lack the experience needed to progress.
A mentor is someone to look up to – someone who was once in your shoes and created a 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.”
If you are on the other side of the relationship and want to become a better mentor, focus on communicating and listening, giving successful constructive criticism, and practicing empathy.
How to build a relationship with a mentor
- Set regular follow-up times. Once you’ve met with a promising mentor and had an initial conversation, think carefully about how and when to follow up. If they’re open to continuing a dialogue, set yourself calendar reminders to follow up and set up meetings. How often you speak with your mentor is up to you, but the goal is continued long-term insight. That could mean hopping on the phone or meeting for coffee once a quarter or even twice a year.
- Utilize social media. Social media offers mentees the opportunity to have regular, no-pressure mentor interactions. Use Twitter and LinkedIn for light things: interesting articles, book recommendations, important industry news, etc. Social media allows mentees to nudge their mentors, reminding them that they value the relationship. Be sure not to nudge too frequently, though, or you’ll come off as pushy. [Learn more ways to use LinkedIn personally and professionally.]
- Save critical communication for in-person meetings. Don’t discuss crucial career ideas over email or social media. Save that for in-person interactions. “Make a point of trying to meet up with them,” Salemi said. “If their calendar is packed, think outside the box in terms of ‘OK, I’ll meet you in your office’ or ‘Can we FaceTime?’ just to get that interaction … you shouldn’t [just] be sending emails.”
- Use old-fashioned mail. Mail is a meaningful way to connect with your mentor. A thank-you note or holiday card can go a long way to show you value your mentor’s advice and presence in your life.
What qualities does a good mentor have?
It is essential to choose wisely when selecting a mentor. They should be someone you look up to and aspire to be like. With that said, all good mentors share several qualities.
- Experience and success: At the most basic level, your mentor should have more experience than you and a track record of success. “A great mentor is someone whose qualities make up a much better version of who you envision yourself to become,” Argyropoulos said.
- Excellent character: Doug White, retirement plan specialist at TCG, recommends seeking a mentor with a strong character and traits worth emulating. “Look for mentors who are authentic, empathetic, creative and honest. 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.”
- Similar values to your own: A mentor in the same business area may better understand your business’s challenges and concerns, but Storey noted that fruitful mentoring relationships don’t necessarily have to happen within the same industry. Leadership style may be more important. “Make sure that the mentor shares a similar value system in leadership and management. 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.”
True leaders make great mentors, and being a mentor is a way to enhance your leadership skills even further.
How to add value to a mentor-mentee relationship
As a mentee, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of asking a lot of your mentor without giving anything in return. While your mentor might be happy to provide you with advice, it’s essential to think of ways to show appreciation and make yourself available for your mentor.
At the very least, Salemi said, it’s crucial to show you appreciate the relationship by valuing your mentor’s advice and time. For example, arrive at meetings early or adjust your schedule to make a meeting more convenient for your mentor. Young professionals may not have much to offer their mentors, but they can bring respect and appreciation.
“You can be a great mentee to your mentor by following up when you say you’re going to – staying on their radar – because chances are, if they’re the right fit for you, they’ll appreciate providing information,” Salemi said. “Thank them, acknowledge them [and] don’t squander their time.”
How to be proactive in your mentoring relationship
The point of seeking a mentor is to gain crucial insights and advance your career. This is only possible if you’re proactive about your situation.
“We need to be proactive – what it comes down to is everyone needs to be proactive in their own career advancement and growth,” Salemi said. “Let’s say you like your job and you think, ‘Oh, things are going well’ – you still need a mentor because, at some point, you may hit a plateau.”
With a mentor, keep it simple and stay relaxed about the relationship. There’s often a lesson to be learned from someone who’s further along in their career. The key is being open to whatever lesson or message that is.
“Seek out someone who you want to emulate, who can help you in areas where you’re deficient in knowledge and skills,” Argyropoulos said. “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.”
Jocelyn Pollock, Skye Schooley and Sammi Caramela contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.