But it's surprising how many people—especially women—don't have mentors. On Citi's Connect: Professional Women's Network on LinkedIn, more than half of women surveyed had never had a mentor. The reasons for this included:
Whether this is an issue specific to women (who tend to not ask for what they want or need) or indicative of all professionals, it's a statistic that deserves being reduced. Those surveyed who did have mentors gushed about how much they learned from theirs, and how having a third party helped them see their own careers in a new light.
And while it might seem a challenge to find someone who will be willing to help guide you through the challenges that your career presents, these tips will make it easier.
1. Look beyond the obvious. If you're only looking at your company to find a mentor, expand your search. Consider groups and organizations you're a member of. Your church. Social networks. Friends of friends. Put the word out that you're looking for someone in your industry to advise you on your career path, and you never know who will turn up. But if you don't let people know you're looking, the search will be harder.
2. Define what you're looking for. While you don't want to pigeonhole yourself by being too specific in the characteristics you'd like, it's a good idea to have a general outline. Someone in your industry is preferable. But what type of role should he or she have? Often, mentors are several levels above you; they've climbed the ranks from the bottom, and have the insight into what it takes to get to the top, which can be helpful if you're interested in becoming a manager or executive.
3. Be flexible. Because many mentors are executives, they're, by nature, very busy. Don't expect too much from your mentor; instead, plan to meet maybe once a quarter unless something comes up sooner. Opt for phone and email if he's too busy to meet in person (though in-person sessions are optimal).
4. Be prepared. Come to each meeting with your mentor armed with questions or a subject you want to cover. This will help you maximize your time, and you won't leave anything out.
5. Be grateful. Your mentor is giving his time to you in exchange for the pleasure of watching your career unfold. He has no ulterior motive, but make him glad he signed on. Show your gratitude by thanking him. Send a heartfelt note about how you really appreciate his advice. Take him to dinner a few times a year. Send him a holiday gift. Keep the relationship thriving, and if there's ever any way you can help him, don't hesitate.
Having a mentor can help you become a better employee, and can help you identify and achieve your career goals. Be open to finding a mentor anywhere, and don't limit yourself to just one. Getting insight and honest feedback from more than one person will give you a better sense of where you are and where you're going.
And one day, when you're in the position to do so, consider mentoring someone who's eager to be just like you.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs.com, a niche job board for public relations, communications, and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.