The value of having a mentor is obvious, but how do you go about finding one?
Whether you’re looking to amp up your leadership skills or just invest in your own personal development, a mentor is a perfect way to take your career to the next level. Mentorship provides new opportunities, chances for growth, access to resources, and much more. If you’re looking to push yourself outside your comfort zone to improve your career growth, look no further than finding a mentor.
What is a mentor?
The role of a mentor is to help inspire and nurture their chosen mentee by providing life experience, career advice, knowledge, motivation, and more.
A lot of companies use mentoring software to facilitate their own internal mentorship programs. These tools include features for recruiting, enrolling, and matching mentors/mentees and tracking performance metrics throughout the process.
There are a lot of approaches you can take to finding a mentor, which is why some people can get overwhelmed at first. Check out some best practices to find a mentor that meets your needs and some mistakes to avoid along the way.
Best practices for finding the right mentor
The first step to finding a mentor is understanding the process of how to find them. There’s no right or wrong way to find a mentor, but there are some sure-fire tips you can follow to get started. Here are just a few to get the ball rolling:
Don’t approach a stranger
This isn’t to say that you can only be mentored by someone you currently know, but rather that you should have previously built a rapport with your mentor. The person you’re asking to be your mentor shouldn’t be surprised by your ask, nor should they be questioning who you are in the process. Focus on building a relationship before you ask someone to mentor you for an increased chance at success.
Look outside your company
While your current place of employment is a great place to start your search, it shouldn’t be limited there. There are many places you can expand your mentorship search that will give you more options and a better chance at success.
Plus, looking for a mentor outside of work will give you the opportunity to work with someone who isn’t biased by your shared workplace. An outside perspective can be very beneficial to your growth.
Seek out mentors that aren’t senior to you
Too many people get caught up in looking for mentors that are senior to them, and they miss peer-level mentors that are right in front of them. Just because someone has the same title as you doesn’t mean they can’t be an effective mentor.
Try looking amongst your immediate team and coworkers for someone you admire. What qualities do you admire about them? What can you learn from them? Keep these things in mind. Those are the most important thing in a mentor, not what title they have.
The ugly truth of mentorship is that it’s probably going to take a good deal of trial and error. There’s a chance the first person you ask to be your mentor won’t be interested or might be too busy. Don’t let that discourage you from the process. Be patient and continue working hard to build relationships.
Invest in more than one mentor
This might be the one time in your life when it’s okay to be greedy. If you have the time and capability to invest in more than one mentor, then you absolutely should. Not only will this increase the skills you’ll learn, but making strong connections is never a bad thing.
Find someone with skills you don’t have
Mentorship is about growth. While it may be tempting to target someone who reminds you of yourself, you may be better off looking for someone who has different strengths than you. This will provide them with an opportunity to learn from you, as well as a chance for you to improve on things you don’t excel at. Learning new skills can be just as valuable, if not more, than honing the skills you already have.
Where to find a mentor
Now that you know some tips for finding your mentor, it’s time to learn where to look. There are countless places you can find a professional mentor outside of your own place of employment. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Online mentorship networks
If you’re looking for a direct path to finding your perfect mentor, there are dozens of websites designed specifically for just that. Online platforms like SCORE and Million Women Mentors are the perfect places to start your mentorship search.
Many online mentorship networks do have an associated cost. However, they are a worthwhile investment for anyone looking to cut around a complicated search and connect with potential mentors who are ready to jump right in.
Professional networking events
Any professional networking event is a goldmine of potential mentors in the making. Don’t let the short-term nature of a networking event deter you from keeping your eyes peeled.
Start by working the room and finding someone you click with. Once you’ve chatted them up a bit, ask them about ways to stay in contact with them (social media, email, professional associations, etc.). After you’ve secured their contact information, you can nurture the relationship online or at other events.
Volunteering is more than just a way to give back to your community or pad your resume – it’s a chance for you to meet people outside of your normal circles. The great thing about volunteering is that people from all walks of life participate. Plus, you most likely already have a common passion or interest, depending on the volunteer work you choose.
Use your volunteering time to make connections and friends with those you work with. You will be surprised by the bonds you can forge and the relationships that can grow. A weekly or monthly volunteering opportunity is the perfect place to naturally foster a mentorship opportunity.
In some cases, you don’t even have to have to leave the comfort of your home to find a mentor. You can curate an entire search online using social media platforms to build a network on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Follow some of your favorite industry professionals online and start interacting with their content. Read their posts, engage them in conversation, and begin building a bond. Over time you may find yourself developing a professional relationship via your favorite social channel!
Common mistakes to avoid while searching for a mentor
There are a lot of common misunderstandings when it comes to mentorship, including what the role of a mentor and a mentee are. Before you go diving headfirst into looking for a mentor, take a moment and reflect on some of the mistakes to avoid.
Don’t assume that mentorship is all about you
The best mentor/mentee relationships are ones where everyone involved learns and grows from them. Don’t assume that your mentor has nothing they can gain from your partnership.
Take a step back and ask yourself what you’re bringing to the table as a mentee. What value can you add to the person you’re asking to be your mentor? You want to make the decision to mentor you a no-brainer for the person you’re asking, and you can do that by thinking about what they will get out of the relationship as well.
Don’t wait for a mentor to find you
The biggest mistake you can make when looking for a mentor is keeping your head down and hoping someone will find you. Be an active participant in looking for a mentor. Put your hand up in meetings, make your voice heard, and actively involve yourself in projects and conversations with people you admire.
Don’t get lazy when things get tough
When done correctly, a mentorship opportunity should challenge you in ways you never expected. There is a good chance that you will be pushed beyond your current capabilities, and it may frustrate you at times.
Just because your mentorship isn’t actually part of your job doesn’t mean you can phone it in when things don’t go your way. You won’t grow as a professional if you only stick to the things you’re good at. Settle into the feeling of failure and learn from your mistakes as you grow!
Don’t be pushy or aggressive
There’s a good chance that the person you decide is your perfect mentor might not want to mentor you – and that’s okay! Life often throws a wrench into our perfectly crafted plans, and your job is to be flexible and roll with the punches.
Don’t waste your time harassing or pressuring someone into being more of a mentor than they are willing to be. Not only will the experience be unpleasant and unfulfilling, but there’s a chance you could sour a relationship in the process.
Mentorship is not the only path toward professional development. If seeking out a work mentor doesn’t seem like your style, or maybe you’d prefer to work on your professional development by yourself first, there are plenty of alternatives you can explore.
Online and digital media
The internet is an endless resource of professional development tools, many of which you can use while multitasking. Tools like industry newsletters, thought-leadership blogs, podcasts, and web series are a way for you to explore your own skills and develop new ones.
Tip: Follow your favorite thought leaders on social media to stay up to date on the latest trends.
The great thing about online and digital media is that there is an abundance of options that almost always come free of cost. You can explore new topics and skills without the risk of paying money for something you might later find you don’t enjoy.
Professional development books
It’s the oldest trick in the book because it works. Industry professionals, CEOs, and thought leaders have been writing books for years about how they became subject matter experts in their field. Do a little research about the ten books anyone in your industry should read, and then work your way through the list.
Tip: Don’t pay for professional development books. Visit your local library to gain access to these resources free of charge.
Online courses, certification programs, and advanced degrees
If you’re looking for professional development that will give you something more tangible, you should look into taking online courses, acquiring certifications, or getting an advanced degree. These will take longer than reading a book or listening to a podcast, but they will oftentimes provide you with a more in-depth experience.
They also open up the possibility of interacting with other industry professionals. Who knows? You might walk into a night class to get your MBA and leave with a friend or a new mentorship opportunity!
Conferences and professional associations
If you’re looking for a professional development opportunity that is focused primarily on relationship building, then conferences and professional associations may be right for you.
These ‘meetings of the mind’ allow you to fully immerse yourself in your topic of expertise and rub elbows with some of the most forward-thinking professionals in your industry. There are often associated costs with attending conferences (travel, hotels, cab fare, etc.), so plan ahead before buying your ticket.
Tip: Some companies will sponsor employees to attend conferences in exchange for sharing the knowledge learned at the event.
Being a mentee is a process, don’t rush it
The most important piece of advice for anyone looking for a mentor is to take your time and don’t rush the process. You have your entire career to find someone to guide you in your growth, so make sure you do it right!
Wondering how you can start outlining what you hope to get out of your mentorship? Learn more about identifying your goals and objectives.
This article was originally published in 2019. It has been updated with new information.