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A guide on how to find the right mentor for your career

October 17, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is a mentor?

Benefits of having a mentor

What to look for in a mentor

How to get a mentor

The bottom line

Great mentorship is truly a gift. Almost nothing is more valuable than knowledge, and finding someone who shares it freely can supercharge your professional development. Whether you’re new to the industry or ready to tackle a management position, a good teacher can help you avoid costly mistakes and quickly reach your goals.

But finding the right fit isn’t easy.

You want to learn from someone who possesses the skills you want to develop and intimately understands your field. You want someone who has been in your shoes before and can pass on some of their experiences and lessons learned. 

Not everyone will have the appropriate expertise to help you. This is especially true today when the COVID-19 pandemic changed the work landscape beyond what most older workers have experienced. A mentor can hardly pretend to be an expert when they are coping with the stresses and uncertainties of the future.

But the pandemic also had an interesting side effect: it’s easier now to find mentors. Remote work has made previously awkward forms of connection much more mainstream; it’s now common to cold-connect on LinkedIn or email someone asking for a “virtual coffee.”

The trick now is wading through the options, finding someone who is a good match, and making a good enough impression to form a relationship. 

This can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, so here’s our guide on how to find a mentor.

 

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a seasoned professional who informally guides a less experienced person in their professional endeavors. Throughout the relationship, the mentor should always have the mentee’s best interests in mind, and they should tailor the mentorship style according to the mentee’s needs. 

A mentor is different from other professional advisors and influencers in your life, like a coach or a sponsor:

  • A coach is someone who uses thought-provoking and creative strategies to help you develop personally or professionally — and you usually pay them for the privilege. They can be experts in your industry, but they don’t have to be.
    Instead, they help you overcome internal barriers like negative thoughts or limiting beliefs, internal barriers that you can experience regardless of your job. 
  • A sponsor is someone in a position of power in your company or industry who can help you progress on your career path. They can endorse you for a promotion or recommend you to a manager elsewhere. You don’t generally have a direct relationship with a sponsor, but instead, they watch your progress from afar and have a say in your advancement.

Compared to a coach or sponsor, a mentor offers more personalized advice based on your experience and industry. They get to know you and your goals and help you plan to reach them. Sometimes personal issues can overflow into your conversations, but only if they relate to your experience at work. Otherwise, this is strictly a business relationship.

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Benefits of having a mentor

Whatever your goals, advice from a seasoned professional will help you overcome challenges in your career. They’ll tell you how to get a promotion, how to make useful connections in your industry, and what pitfalls can derail your career goals. They can also act as a sounding board for your goals, dreams, and aspirations.

The trick is finding the right type of mentor for you. If you want to launch your own small business, you can reach out to someone with experience in entrepreneurship. If you want to become a better leader, find someone with leadership skills. 

Experienced mentors will give you insight you don’t normally have access to. On their journey to success, they've certainly made mistakes and learned from them. And they can pass those lessons on to you.

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What to look for in a mentor

The mentor-mentee relationship is sacred. As a role model, your mentor has a certain amount of power and influence over you and your career development. They shouldn’t take that power lightly.

Here’s what you should look for in a great mentor:

  • Experience and a track record of success. As a high performer, you want to learn from the best. A great mentor will be great at their jobs and have good stature in your industry. 
  • A great character. You should look for a mentor who is authentic, creative, curious, honest, and empathetic. This person will care about your professional growth and won’t sugarcoat the truth. This kind of integrity is valuable in all facets of life — but especially so in your career.
  • Similar values to you. A good mentor isn’t just an expert in your industry; they also care about the same things. If you need advice on how to balance work and family, a mentor with no kids won’t be as helpful as a more family-oriented person. 
  • Enthusiasm for sharing knowledge. The most qualified person in the world won’t be helpful if they don’t enjoy teaching. A good mentor should be excited about helping young talent succeed.

These characteristics can be hard to find. But with some time and patience, you can find the right fit for your needs.

How to get a mentor

There’s no single “trick” to help find mentors. Like all relationships, finding the right fit requires self-awareness, patience, and a certain amount of vulnerability.

Sometimes, a mentor-mentee connection sprouts organically between two individuals at an organization. More often than not, though, you’ll have to put in some leg work. 

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Before even starting, consider these points:

  • Reflect on whether mentorship is a good choice for you. Do you think you would be a good mentee? You have to be respectful, willing to work hard, flexible, and open to feedback and criticism — all characteristics of a growth mindset. If you can’t handle that right now, mentorship may not be a good fit.
  • Identify what you want out of the relationship. You should be clear about your mentorship needs and goals. What does professional growth look like to you? Then you can find a mentor to help you reach those ends.
  • Be clear about your goals. Before asking for mentorship, you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish. Setting clear career goals will give you something concrete to strive for.
  • Prepare your elevator pitch. As you reach out to prospective mentors, you’ll have to make your case as to why you’d be a great fit together. Find a way to succinctly communicate your goals, what you want out of the relationship, and why they would be a great fit for you.

First steps

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start your search. Here’s how:

  • Create a shortlist. Once you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, you can look for potential mentor candidates. Start with people in your life; is there anyone directly ahead of you in terms of career growth at your company or in your network? Look for people who have jobs you want to grow into in the future.
  • Scan your personal and professional networks. Family connections, professional associations, your workplace, nonprofit organizations, local business people, and volunteer groups are all valid places to look for a mentor. There’s a chance that your company has development or mentoring programs you can use as starting points. 

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  • Lean into social media. It’s easier than ever to find potential connections online. Look at company staff pages or mutual connections on LinkedIn. Usually, these will feature employee profiles that you can scour to filter out candidates.
    Plus, if they have a strong online presence, you can dive into their professional brand and virtual interactions. These can tell you whether they’d be a right fit.
  • Attend networking events. Now that pandemic restrictions have loosened, in-person professional conferences are coming back. Consider attending one for your industry (or one you’re interested in joining). You can meet several potential mentorship candidates there.

Next steps

By now you should know: 1) why you want a business mentor, 2) why you’d be a great mentee, and 3) who you want to reach out to. That means it’s time to start talking to people.

Here’s what to do:

  • Schedule a meeting. You can ask for mentorship over email, but it may feel somewhat impersonal. Try setting up a coffee chat instead. This initial conversation will give you a better sense of their character and demeanor before popping the question.
  • Explain why you want a mentor. During your first meeting and as you discuss your potential mentorship, it’s good to set up clear expectations. Communicate your goals — let them know what you hope to accomplish. Mentorship is a two-way street, so they’ll be evaluating you, too.
  • Explain why you selected them. You could have chosen anyone, so why them? Now is your chance to show that you’ve done your research. Explaining your reasoning demonstrates a professional attitude and that you care about maximizing your time together.

Nurturing your mentorship relationship

Once you find the right mentor and they agree to help you, it’s important to set healthy boundaries and clear expectations. This will help you maximize your relationship without anyone getting tired of each other. You’ll want to establish basic things like:

  • How often will you meet up? 
  • How long will your meetups be?
  • Do you have strict rules about where you can meet, or will you play it by ear? 
  • Are you allowed to reach out to them outside of your meetings?
  • What are you hoping to achieve together? 

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These boundaries can also evolve and change over time. Checking in with each other frequently will help keep your mentorship program on track.

The bottom line

A mentor-mentee relationship is one of the most important in your career. Having a seasoned professional guiding you offers invaluable experience. They’ll point you to new connections, develop your skill set, and offer constructive criticism. All of this will help you grow into the best version of your professional self.

The first step is learning how to find a mentor. Thankfully, there are more tools available to you now than ever before. Whether through random LinkedIn invites or your existing network, you can start the perfect relationship for you.

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Published October 17, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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