Having a mentor, especially at the early stages of your career, can be invaluable. You get someone who can advise you on career decisions, help you navigate tricky situations, and even just suggest ways to succeed at the more mundane aspects of office life.
There's a lot of advice out there that tells you to approach someone and ask them to set up a formal mentoring relationship with you. While I don't doubt that plenty of people have had success with this approach, I don't think you need to set up something so formal. Instead, some of the best mentoring relationships can develop naturally without ever being officially labeled. Here's how:
1. Look for people you already click with. The strongest mentor relationships are ones that aren't forced, but rather, ones that develop naturally from good chemistry.
2. Ask questions about them, such as, "How did you do that?" And, "Why did you decide to handle that altercation in the meeting that way?" Or, "What was behind your decision to revamp this project?" Watch them in action, and then talk with them about why they made particular choices.
3. Ask questions about yourself, such as "What do you see in my performance or approach that I could do better?" Or, "How can I be perceived as more ___?" And, "If I want to get from 'x' to 'y' in my career, how do I do that?"
4. Talk to them about dilemmas you're facing in your job, and explain your thought process on how to handle it. Ask for advice. Run your proposed solution by them and see what they say.
5. Be worth mentoring. This means that you take their advice seriously and genuinely want to excel and advance in your career. A smart mentor will quickly lose interest otherwise.
Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.