4 Top Tips for Finding a Career Mentor
For anyone new to the world of work, developing a relationship with a mentor can be one of the fastest ways to develop your career and grow professionally. Mentors help you identify and build on your strengths, guide you in mastering new technical skills and in developing shaper communication savvy, and in navigating the bumpy landscape of workplace politics. Bottom line, they can be an advocate for your ongoing success. Here are four top tips for standing out as mentor-worthy candidate and attracting and securing a positive mentor relationship.
Get Noticed by Managers at Work
Attract a mentor by demonstrating that you’re the kind of person who would be enjoyable to mentor and that there is upside potential for a mentor to invest their time in your development. One of the most important things you can do is to be great at your job – bring a positive attitude every day, master both technical and communication skills, and celebrate your coworkers’ and team’s successes.
Find opportunities to ask for more responsibility and get creative in sharing ideas for contributing in deeper, more meaningful ways. Also participate as often as possible. That means attending meetings, even optional ones – coming prepared and speaking up with relevant information. Make time to participate in (or help plan) workplace service days and to join in team celebrations. You can also get noticed by volunteering to join a special committee or to lead a department project as opportunities are presented.
Join Local Professional Organizations and Interest Groups
Grow your support network and get introduced to potential mentors by joining local professional groups, attending MeetUps in your area of interest, and participating in online community conversations. Examples of organizations include a formal organization, such as the local chapter of Project Management Professionals, a MeetUp for people interested in graphic design, or an informal LinkedIn or Facebook group of people with jobs similar to yours.
Do your homework in advance so you can contribute to the conversation – if there is a featured speaker or a live video cast, check out their website or blog and come prepared with a question or two. If you have access to the attendee list, look them up on LinkedIn and read articles they may have published or shared with others. Join in round-table discussions, post comments and set a goal of meeting 3-4 new people at each event who are interesting to connect with and have more experience than you. Some professional organizations and conferences offer speed mentoring sessions where you can ask targeted questions and establish common interests. Pro tip: If you’re uncomfortable in new groups, bring a coworker with you or volunteer to have a formal role, like welcoming/signing in participants or taking photos during the gathering.
ASK: Be Bold, Specific and Prepared
Tips 1 and 2 will both draw positive attention to yourself and help you network with and notice who you want to target as a mentor. The next step is to choose one (or two or three) and reach out and seek to establish a professional relationship via email, instant message or LinkedIn. Cover these essentials to get noticed:
- Be specific about why you want to meet by referencing something they presented or accomplished that you admire. For example, your email subject line could be: “Loved your Emerging Marketing Trends presentation, have 15 minutes to explore other digital options?”
- In the body of the message, take one to two lines to introduce yourself, your professional goal(s) and why you want to meet.
- Share 1-2 times you’re free to meet or a link to your electronic calendar so they can pick a time that is mutually convenient..
- Keep it short – asking for a 15-20 minute meeting is a perfect start.
- Thank them in advance for their time and consideration.
Once the meeting is scheduled, start preparing relevant questions that require the mentor’s insight – skip topics with questions you can look up yourself. Are you wanting information or support for which this person has specific expertise? Would you like to hear about their journey from A to B and how they accomplish specific goals? Are you facing a situation or conflict you need advice about?
During the conversation, demonstrate interest by listening actively, maintaining eye contact and taking notes. When appropriate, find an opening to share your career goals and if you feel the meeting is going well, ask if you can set up another meeting in the future.
After the meeting, send a thank you note and follow up with any actions you may have taken based on your conversation.
Formalize a Mentoring Relationship
As you have a few more conversations with your prospective mentor, assess how the relationship is developing. Is it one-sided or do you have quality two-way conversations? Are there things you can help the mentor with? Is there more guidance and advice you can seek from this mentor? If so, open a conversation about launching a formal mentoring relationship.
Clearly express what your goals are so the mentor can evaluate if s/he is the right fit for you. For example, are you wanting to gain meeting communication skills, master a technical process, grow in a leadership role or gain a promotion? Express your willingness to do the necessary work to achieve your goals and suggest a periodic meeting schedule that respects the mentor’s time (such as meeting every two weeks for a 45 minute meeting, lunch or coffee). Formally ask if the person would like to become your mentor. Hopefully, they’ll say YES and you will have accelerated support for your career goals.
Being a mentor involves responsibility and commitment. If the person isn’t agreeable now, don’t take it personally, most likely they are too busy for this type of formal mentoring commitment. You can absolutely ask if you can still meet occasionally and if they can suggest another manager or professional who you can begin building a mentoring relationship with.