Finding a professional mentor is no easy task, but the payoff makes it well worth the investment of time and energy. The right mentor will offer invaluable access to a world of knowledge and experience.
A great mentor will:
- Help you set short-term and long-term career goals.
- Keep you focused on your career goals and help you reach them.
- Provide you with advice and guidance to overcome obstacles.
- Help you develop and expand your professional skills, capabilities and network.
- Help you find and take advantage of professional opportunities.
- Encourage you to continue learning and growing.
So, how do you actually find that "right" person who will make a great mentor? Believe it or not, you probably already know at least a few prospective contenders. Here are some of the things you should look for when choosing a mentor.
1. You admire his or her career. This person doesn't need to have the exact career you're looking to build. What's more important is that you admire the path he or she has taken and can view this person as a role model.
Of course, without real world experience in your chosen field, a mentor will be somewhat limited in the guidance he or she can offer. However, there are many success strategies that apply to all professions so you'll still have plenty to learn if he or she is the right mentor.
2. You respect his or her character. Respect is the foundation for a good mentor/mentee relationship. You have to believe that this person possesses qualities you can feel good about, as well as ones you want to embrace more of in yourself.
3. He or she has experience you can learn from. Again, it doesn't matter if it's a perfect career match, but you want your prospective mentor to have some kind of professional experience that relates to your goals. Great mentors will be able to find meaningful, relevant wisdom to share, regardless of the differences between you.
4. He or she respects you, believes in you, and sees your potential. It's absolutely critical that your mentor is 100 percent behind you. He or she has to want the best for you and believe you're more than capable of achieving it. That doesn't mean your mentor has to be a constant cheerleader though. In fact, you want someone who isn't afraid to call you out—respectfully—when you're headed for danger. There will surely be times when you and your mentor don't see eye to eye, but you should always know that he or she is looking out for your best interest.
5. You enjoy his or her company—and vice versa. Any strong mentorship relationship requires personal engagement and connection. You and your mentor will (hopefully) spend many hours together and speak frequently, so it's important that you get along and enjoy one another. If you don't have a basic level of likability that goes both directions, the relationship will suffer and no one will benefit.
6. He or she is willing to invest in you and understands the benefit. Mentors provide their time and wisdom as a personal favor to you. Great mentors will understand that it's an investment, which pays off for them in a variety of intangible ways.
For example, many enjoy the process of giving back and sharing their experiences with people who are interested and can benefit. Those who had helpful mentors in the past may think of their investment as "payback." Others will like knowing they're helping the business community and shaping the next generation of professionals by assisting in your development. Whatever the mentor gets out of the relationship, it has to feel worth it to them. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a thankless chore.
7. He or she is trustworthy. Because you'll likely share many personal and private matters with your mentor, you must know that he or she is capable of keeping things confidential. If you don't implicitly trust this person, you'll censor yourself. A mentor can only help when you're willing to really open up about what's going on for you—whether discussing your fears, your boss or your prospective career opportunities. So make sure you can rely on this person to keep tight-lipped when needed. And don't leave this to chance—discuss confidentiality openly and be specific about what you need.
You also need to trust that this person is capable of giving good, solid advice. If you frequently question his or her judgment, it's not the right mentor for you.
Once you've identified a great prospective mentor, you still have some work to do in defining the kind of relationship you'd like to develop and how the mentorship will work. You also need to convince this person to participate. However, the hardest part is done. Take your time considering options and remember that this will (hopefully) be a productive, long-term professional relationship, so choose wisely.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.