Mentor (n.): a wise, trusted counselor or teacher or an influential, senior sponsor or supporter.
One of the most undervalued and beneficial resources any professional can have during their career is a mentor. In an ever-growing competitive world of work, a combination of emotional intelligence, refined skillset and a great network will grant you the growth trajectory you’re aiming for in your career. If you speak with any accomplished (senior) professional, the last piece of that puzzle is attributed to having a mentor. In your path to success, it’s important to have guidance and positive encouragement from someone who has been there done that.
In an article about the findings of a recent study of professional services firms, Harvard Business School’s Thomas DeLong wrote, “Everyone we spoke with over age 40 could name a mentor in his or her professional life, but younger people often could not.” Before you can reap the benefits of a trusted advisor, you have to find one. To kick off your search, here are six strategies for finding a career-defining mentor:
Unearth hidden gems in your current network.
Start with your closest friends at work who have an understanding of you professionally and personally. The motto “If you don’t ask, you shall never receive” could not be more true. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and ask your colleagues for recommendations of former coworkers or accomplished friends who may be a great fit for you (as a mentor). Additionally, reaching out to your friends who work in a similar industry can prove to be fruitful on multiple fronts. Let them know where you are mentally, and what you are looking to gain from a mentor in your corner. Once they have suggested a few names, take time to do some research of your own by taking a look through their Linkedin and Angellist profiles to get a better sense of their career trajectory before you reach out.
Remember your (professional) heritage.
You may not be at your previous employer for a variety of reasons but there may be an opportunity you’re missing out on by overlooking this option. Think back to some of the managers you enjoyed conversing with and have shared values. Consider reaching out to them to connect further (be flexible; coffee, lunch, quick Skype call) and catch up. In some cases, managers who worked in a cross functional team could be ideal as well. Your mentor doesn’t have to be in your direct line of work in order for the relationship to be mutually beneficial. Building a relationship with someone who’s opinion you trust is rooted more deeply in them understanding your ambitions and having a strong sense of leadership that can help guide your decision making at crucial inflection points of your career.
This mentor acquisition strategy, although effective, may take longer to materialized because you have to build the initial relationship before you can established a “formalized” mentor relationship. Also, not all industry events attract high caliber professionals that you’ll want to connect with, so be strategic about which ones you attend. If you choose to invest time into an event, make sure you are stepping out of your comfort zone by connecting with new faces and asking insightful questions that spark great conversation and help you learn about their experiences. You may find your mentor in the most unexpected of places, so don’t discount anyone before learning more about them.
Don’t overlook your peers.
Depending on where you are in your career, it’s valuable to consider colleagues as mentors. We all have different experiences and learnings based on how we got to where we are, so there may be learning opportunity for both of you.
Aspire to learn from differences.
Intuitively, we are attracted to what we are most familiar with. When you’re looking to find a mentor, be open to connecting with someone that may not have the exact same personality or approach as you. The differences between the both of you can ultimately lead to you learning so much more about yourself and vice versa. There isn’t just one path that leads to success and it’s important to gain valuable learnings and wisdom from different sources. Although differences are able to add more to the mentor relationship, qualities such as honesty, integrity, and great listening skills are a must.
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Know your value as a mentee.
One of the biggest misconceptions around mentorship is that you are looking for someone to help you achieve your goals. Having a mentor is a dynamic relationship that involves both sides providing value and feedback to each other. Of course, the more experienced individuals are able to contribute at a different capacity but your perceived lack of experience does not exclude you. Being more novice in your field and in the process of learning about yourself allows you to have less bias towards norms. If you are younger, you may have a better understanding of how new technologies and more progressive thinking is changing the workplace dynamics.