Why and How to Get a Mentorship
January is National Mentoring Month, a campaign run by the organization MENTOR to promote the benefits of becoming a mentor in both schools and workplaces. A mentor is someone who has experience in a field the person they’re advising (the mentee) is interested in.
You can approach a mentor for advice and insights when you want to solve a problem or make an important decision. Mentors may recommend books to read, resources to access or education to pursue to grow a career.
Mentors can also help you connect with relevant professionals and build your network. A mentor relationship also enables you to practice your communication skills and provides you with relationship building experience.
Many mentors express a desire to “pay it forward,” by passing on their knowledge and what’s made them successful to up-and-comers who can benefit from those insights. Mentor relationships may last a lifetime, with mentees inspiring mentors in their own careers. Even established and successful professionals can have mentors throughout decades-long careers.
Seeking out and building a relationship with a mentor can help you grow your career. According to National Mentoring Day, employees who receive mentoring are promoted five times more often than those who don’t have mentors. As Corey Walters said in our post on how to set professional goals, “A mentor can give you the tools you need to advance in your career, and that’s a first step when setting a goal.”
Here’s how to identify a mentor and how to create a successful relationship as a mentee.
How to Find a Mentor
Mentors are typically at least a few steps ahead of their mentees in their careers. That’s why it’s first helpful to consider your ideal career path and the positions that will get you there. You can then seek out someone in a similar position or in a different industry if you’re interested in changing careers.
Also, think about the skills you want to develop. Maybe you want to be a top executive someday, but you don’t have a lot of management or leadership experience. A mentor can help you develop those skills through modeling and by offering advice on steps to take to strengthen them.
When you have a clear view of what you want out of a mentor relationship, you can approach a potential mentor in person if you work with them, or reach out to them online to have an initial conversation. Be up-front about what type of commitment you’re looking for. Maybe you want to meet with the mentor once a month over coffee to chat about your career and ask about theirs. Or, you might be looking for specific resources to overcome career hurdles.
Ideally, your mentor will be committed and will be there for you when you need career advice. Some people may already be mentoring others or may simply not have the time or dedication you need. That’s OK. Set yourself up for success by presenting a clear proposal for what you envision from the relationship.
Tips for Developing a Mentee-Mentor Relationship
Once you’ve found a mentor, make it easy for them to help you. Set up regular meetings. Create an agenda of what you’d like to talk about or questions to ask. You can treat a meeting like an interview, where you get to discover valuable insights that can help you in your career. If you’re not sure where to start with what to talk about, here are some ideas.
- Your mentor’s career journey: How did they get their first job? Did they always know what they wanted to do? What did they do to achieve their promotions?
- Your mentor’s education and training: What type of education did they pursue, and how has that helped them at work? Do they recommend supplemental classes to take or certifications or licenses to consider? How do they continue to stay informed and expand their knowledge? Do they listen to podcasts, read specific publications or have a book they’d recommend?
- Your mentor’s hard and soft skills: What skills have been most beneficial in your mentor’s career? How did they develop those skills – through formal education, specific work experiences or something else? For skills you’ve been challenged in developing (public speaking, for example), what would your mentor recommend to strengthen those skills?
- Your mentor’s professional organizations and network: Does your mentor belong to any professional organizations? If so, what’s the benefit of membership? Are there people in your mentor’s network you might benefit from talking with in an informational interview? Are there any introductions your mentor would be willing to make to help you effectively grow your professional network?
- Your mentor’s general career advice tips: How has your mentor handled challenging work situations you might be experiencing? What are your mentor’s tips for navigating the workplace, collaborating with coworkers, managing others, etc.?
What you talk about during your mentoring sessions may change each time, depending on what you’re going through. Strive to listen carefully – you might even take notes during the meeting to reflect upon later. Thank the mentor for meeting with you, and let them know you’re appreciative of their time and their sharing of their expertise.
Ask your mentor if they’re comfortable with you reaching out at other times if you need their immediate advice. Ask what their preferred method of contact is so you’re respectful of your mentor’s time.
A Mentor Can Support Your Career Growth
Mentors can help you at any stage of your career. It’s never too early or late to seek one out. You may develop a lasting friendship with your mentor and become a mentor yourself one day.
As you grow your relationship with your mentor, offer to help them when you can, too. For example, you might learn about a great local organization they should check out. Or, you could send them an article they might appreciate reading.
Your mentors may change over time, depending on where you are in your career. You can still maintain a relationship with former mentors by connecting with them on LinkedIn and asking for and providing work updates to stay in touch.