The word mentor, as a noun, is defined as an experienced and trusted adviser. As a verb, it means to advise or train (someone, typically a younger colleague). A mentor invests time and energy in the growth and development of his or her mentee, and can be an integral part of future success.
You may think only employed people have mentors, or that it needs to be someone within your current company, but that’s not the case! You can benefit from a mentor no matter what stage you’re at, and while common, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a current boss or someone you work with regularly.
Is there someone whose work you have admire for a long time? Consider where you would like to be in your career, and then think about the people in your life that are in this position or doing similar work. Maybe you don’t know anyone personally, but someone in your network could make an introduction.
Having a mentor can get you through a job search, share advice in unfamiliar situations and provide feedback about an idea or initiative. Having this type of guidance can shorten the learning curve and accelerate your career. A trusted advisor can help you navigate the ever-changing professional landscape, avoid costly mistakes, and expand your professional network through connecting you with established colleagues and contacts. Having a mentor can truly help you grow as a person and improve your happiness levels in general. Developing this type of relationship with someone you look up to and trust can be a fantastic way to standout in your industry.
So how do you find a great mentor? It’s not as simple as identifying a colleague who you think would be a good fit and calling it a done deal. It can take some time, and many people struggle in their approach, leaving them disheartened or disappointed. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t ask a stranger – Chasing or forcing a connection rarely ends in a positive mentorship. It should feel a bit more obvious, and you should get to know this person before approaching them. This should be someone who has already recognized your potential, as they are more likely to invest time and energy into mentoring you.
- Provide value – If you have found someone who you think would make a great mentor, don’t immediately jump to asking them. First interact with them, comment on and share their work, and ask them how you can be of value. Perhaps they are looking for a skill you have and could use some help. Ask yourself how you can be of service first.
- Be a great mentee – In order to work with a mentor, you need to be someone that person wants to mentor. This means you should be respectful, attentive, open to feedback (and criticism) and willing to put in the work. If someone – especially someone with a tight schedule – is going to commit to being your mentor, they want to know you will be eager to learn and no time is wasted. Are you actively building your career already? Are you aiming to make the world a better place and solve problems through your work?
Regardless of where you are in your career or where you want to be, you can benefit greatly from having a mentor. You can still accomplish great things without that type of support of course, as many people do. But it sure is nice to have someone one your side, especially when you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated.