5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Mentor

Eighty percent of CEOs say they had mentors throughout their careers, and studies show that good mentoring leads to greater career success. If you’re not part of an organization that encourages or sets up mentor/mentee relationships, asking a person you admire to be your mentor can feel intimidating, but don’t let that stop you. Your mentor will benefit from the relationship too, and the impact they have on your career is invaluable. 

Consider these 5 things when choosing a mentor:

  1. What do you admire about them and why? Choose someone you admire in your industry or in an industry in which you’d like to be. This doesn’t have to be someone you know. Study their professional profile and take note of their career path. Write down what you admire about them and why you want to be like them professionally. You can do this exercise with more than one person. It also doesn’t need to be someone who is older than you with more years of experience. Be open to anyone, from whom you think you could learn.
  2. Are they accessible? You might admire a famous actor or business executive, but it’s unlikely they’ll agree to mentor you if you don’t have a personal connection. Find someone with a similar career, to whom you can gain access. You can also build relationships with your desired mentor’s staff or business connections and see if they will make an introduction. Don’t be discouraged if you contact a prospective mentor, and you don’t get a response or they decline your request. Keep asking and you will find mentors who can and want to help you. Remember, you can have multiple mentors who contribute to your success in a variety of ways.
  3. Do your professional values align? This is critical to choosing a mentor authentically. While you might not see eye to eye with your mentors on every topic, choosing mentors who share your professional values is important. It goes beyond titles and accomplishments. How do they treat people? What are their world views? What motivates them? This can’t be faked or forced and is key to finding mentors, whom you trust and respect. 
  4. Will they challenge you? Good mentors are more than cheerleaders; they challenge their mentees to grow and change. Your mentors should to listen to your ideas and offer you different perspectives. You don’t want mentors who simply tell you what to do or what they did. While your mentors should offer guidance, they should also give you the space and freedom to carve your own path. You also might find that you need different mentors as your career progresses. If you stop feeling challenged by your mentor, it’s time to move on.
  5. How can they help you right now? Analyze how you hope to develop and grow over the next few years. As your career progresses, your needs will change. A mentor who can help you right now might not be able to five years from now and vice versa. If you’re just starting your career, a CEO with thousands of employees and 30 years of experience is probably not the best mentor. Even if they agree to mentor you, the skills you need right now are probably very different than the skills they are currently using. You want a mentor who can help you thrive in your current position and progress to the next one. General wisdom from a successful professional is great, but your mentor should be familiar enough with your experience to give you advice you can use immediately. 

Approaching a mentor: 

It’s your responsibility to reach out to the person whom you’d like to be your mentor. It can feel scary, but you can do it! You don’t want to miss out on something that so positively and drastically impacts your career. As stated before, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a response after your first attempt. Try a few more times to reconnect. If you keep getting ignored or are declined, find another mentor, and try gain. Having people that look up to you and want to learn from you is very flattering, so it’s likely you’ll be met with positive responses even if mentorship doesn’t come from it. 

When you reach out to a mentor, tell them why you admire them and want them to be your mentor. The more specific you can be, the better. Reference their work or content they’ve shared from which you’ve learned and share how you applied it. If you have contacts in common, have those contacts make an intro or reference them in your message. Make meeting with you very easy and convenient for your mentor. Offer to buy them coffee or lunch somewhere close to where they work or drop into their office at a time that works for them. 

Be specific about what you would like to talk about. Don’t ask someone you’ve never met to be your mentor in a message. First, you don’t know yet they’ll be a good fit. Second, they’ll be wary of making that commitment without having built a relationship with you first. 

The mentor/mentee relationship

A good mentor/mentee relationship provides value for both parties. They can learn from you, as well as you learning from them. Sharing your ideas, experiences and perspectives might help them solve a problem they’re experiencing or relate to a colleague or subordinate better. When you take their advice and implement it, tell them how it impacted your project or career. Knowing specifics on how their mentorship is helping you will inspire them to keep doing it. Remember, a mentor’s purpose is not to help you find a job, get promoted, or introduce you to their valuable contacts; although, those are often side effects of the relationship. Their purpose is to help you grow, improve, and learn, and you can do the same for them.

Mentors are often the most valuable professional relationships you will have if you choose them wisely. It’s up to you to find your mentors, reach out, and build the relationships. It’s worth effort. Good mentors were likely mentored by someone, who helped them succeed. They will do the same for you, so you can do it for someone else.

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