by Julie Preston

Julie Square

I recently wrote about the value of a mentor. Today I discuss finding a mentor and taking the first steps towards building a successful relationship.

Mentoring can make a big difference to your career and it is worth considering what you hope to achieve. Finding a good mentor is not always easy and often requires a significant commitment from both parties, so it pays to plan first. Here are a few questions to consider:

Why are you looking for a mentor?

Is there a particular skill would you like to develop?

Are you looking for specific knowledge of processes within your own company?

Would you like a more general sounding board for the big-picture of your career?

How much time are you willing to invest in the relationship?

The type of mentor you look for will depend on the answers to these and other questions. Once planning is complete you’re ready to start your mentor search. But where are they hiding?

Where to find a possible mentor

Formal mentoring programs: Does your workplace offer a formal mentoring program? This can be a great way to be connected with a mentor you might not otherwise considered.

Friends of friends of friends: Look at your own network. Do you already know someone who has the skills or experience you’re interested in?  A great mentor could be an inspirational person you already work with. I recommend not asking your immediate manager to be your mentor because no matter how well intentioned they are unlikely to be the objective observer you’re looking for.

Professional associations: Senior member of professional associations linked to your current or aspirational career path can be great mentors. They’ve “been there and done that”, and you can learn a lot from their experiences.


Building a good relationship

Once you have identified a possible mentor, it’s important to build a good relationship. Invite your potential mentor to meet with you over coffee to discuss possible mentoring. This is a chance for you to get to know the potential mentor better, for them to get to know you, and for both to assess whether you might work well together. Have a plan for your first meeting. Be specific about what you want to achieve (think about those questions you answered earlier), and why you think your potential mentor could help.

If your potential mentor says yes, fantastic! Before you leave this first meeting, agree on when and where you will next meet. Remember, interactions don’t have to be face-to-face. Consider phone, email or Skype as alternatives that could better suit busy lives. Perhaps you could work out a schedule of ‘meetings’, including some wiggle room in case things change.

If your potential mentor is unable to work with you at the moment ask if they know someone with the right skills who might be available. Don’t see it as a rejection. Instead look for opportunities to expand your professional network. You never know where a possible mentor might come from.

Mentoring at its best

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction

John C Crosby

Mentoring is a ‘give and take’ relationship that is beneficial for both the mentor and the mentee and which when undertaken effectively has the following characteristics:

  • The mentor and the mentee are prepared to invest the time and effort required for good mentoring
  • The relationship is mutual and not one-sided
  • Mentors provide encouragement and orchestrate development opportunities for the mentee whenever possible; for example giving feedback or connecting to networks
  • The relationship is based on trust and confidentiality
  • Mutual respect of their mentoring partner’s time is evident
  • Clear goals and outcomes are identified and worked towards
  • Mentors provide actionable advice and feedback that points to things that are within the mentees scope of control

Your mentor won’t have all the answers, but listening to their stories and sharing your own could help you to take the next steps in your career.