How to Find a Mentor: 3 Strategies to Finding Your Trusted Career Advisor

In our professional lives, there are often key moments when we need to seek objective advice outside of our workplace. These moments can arise when one is looking to change directions, or simply needs a fresh perspective. I feel that it's always valuable to get feedback and seek guidance from a trusted advisor.

First, what is a mentor and what does that relationship look like? Well, for starters, I like to think of a mentor as someone who can provide guidance in a meaningful way, someone who is inspirational but humble, and someone who has expertise in your field at a Manager level or above. The relationship that you establish with this person, should bear a mutual understanding of needs and expectations, and ultimately benefit you in your career. 

Here are a few effective ways you can establish a successful relationship with the right mentor. 

1. Qualify what you are looking for in your mentor.

Try to narrow down potential mentors by assessing two key things:  Personal Qualities and Professional Experience. 

Personal Qualities to vet: 
Do you share the same values?
Do you trust their intentions?
Do they possess the ability to give advice?
Do they give feedback in a positive, but transparent way?
Do they inspire you?

Professional Qualities to vet: 
Do they understand the industry that you are in or seeking to be in?
Do they have a valuable network?
Do they have wisdom and insight from their experiences, to share?
Do they have a willingness to provide guidance for your professional development?

2. Engage in a meaningful way.

While networking events and LinkedIn can provide a wealth of ideas for who to engage with - it is not likely that you email or walk up to someone you do not know and say "Will you be my mentor?". Mentorship should happen intentionally and organically. The combination of the two can set the tone for a successful relationship, here are ways to engage: 

Step 1: Be Intentional: 
Have an idea of the profile, or even the person you would like to approach.
Utilize your network to find personal connections who are willing to make an intro.
Determine events, groups where you may gain access to this individual.
Establish a rapport either online, or in person by making the first step in outreach.
Be realistic. Sheryl Sandberg may not be available.

Step 2: Take an Organic Approach: 
In building a rapport, you'll want to create a foundation first, by starting a conversation.
By selecting someone in the same industry, the conversation may begin on a topic that you know is near and dear to this individual.
If this individual publishes content via LinkedIn or has a site, you may want to start to engaging via commentary.
When you find an article of interest or an event that may align with this person, send them a personal note "I thought you may be interested in this..."  

3. Since you've establish the 'Who' and 'How' to connect, make sure to 'Ask' for what you need. This can be the most challenging part. But contrary to some advice you may find, I do believe that you should ask someone more formally, to be your mentor. Here are a few suggestions on methods you can utilize to make the ask. 

"I've personally admired your professional career and am at a crossroads, I'd be grateful if you would allow me to buy you a coffee and bend your ear for 20 minutes about where I see my career going to get your feedback since you have been in the industry for 10 years. Your guidance would mean a lot to me. Do you have time to connect briefly?

If all goes well, you'll be set up to say:

"I've enjoyed our discussions and found your advice so valuable, to keep you updated I've decided to take a new position. As I continue to develop in this new role, I'd love to keep in touch more regularly. Would you be willing to meet quarterly, and advise me more formally as my mentor? I know your time is limited, and I don't want to take you away from your busy day-to-day, I'm happy to Skype or meet before work if that is best. I appreciate your time and look forward to connecting again. Let me know your thoughts and if there is anything I can do for you."

Don't leave things in a gray area, ask for what you need and expect upfront, but give leeway in case this isn't something your contact has the bandwidth to do. When you are graceful and humble, it is more likely someone will be very honest and upfront with you, so you know where you stand.  

For all the mentors out there, keep advising our next generations. It is so important to take a vested interest in the future of others, and to help. Pay it forward. 


Photo via: Lisa Diederich