Mentors Demystified

Mentor. Coach. Advisor. Sponsor. Advocate.
Mentorship programs are great but have their limitations – there is no way to match mentors and mentees based on chemistry, common connections, or values.  An organic mentoring relationship is more realistic for most professionals and, in my opinion, more holistically fruitful. Being your own best advocate to identify and reach out to potential mentors can be intimidating but is critical in amplifying your career success. The mentorship trend is slowly splintering into discussion about not only mentors but the need for coaches, advisors, sponsors, and advocates – each slightly different in definition.  The fact is, we probably need at least one of each and it’s not always our manager.

Here are some tips on finding a mentor. It’s not as difficult, or formal, as it seems!

1.  You don’t need a signed certificate.   They may not even know they are your mentor… And that’s okay… sometimes it’s actually better.  Asking people to be your “mentor” may put them on the spot. It feels formal and like a big commitment even if that isn’t what you’re looking for.

2.  It’s all about relationship building.  Keep them posted on your career highlights.  Send them a thank you note.  Keep them in mind when you come across a book/article/news piece that may be interesting to them.  It’s a two way street so provide them with somevalue as well.   The way you build the relationship speaks to your personal and professional brand and leaves an impression.  I once met with someone (who has since become a mentor) and afterwards sent a thank you note along with a small magnet with an inspirational quote that I felt aligned with my professional values. It’s still in their office 7+ years later.

3. They don’t have to be your best friend… and they may not even be in your industry or organization… but they should have skills/qualities/expertise that interest and inspire you in some way. You may be completely different than you mentor and you may not even have alot in common with them personally.  That’s okay! It doesn’t mean they can’t offer you pearls of wisdom and it doesn’t mean they don’t have qualities you admire or skills you wish to garner.  The person with the career you want is not always going to be the person you want to grab a drink with.

4.  It’s not one size fits all.  Just like your friend that is really fun to go out with but isn’t great when you need relationship advice, you may have mentors for different aspects of your life/career.   For example, one mentor may be helpful in discussing your professional brand, another may be helpful in discussing work/life balance.

5.  Treat them to coffee.  It’s a great way to initiate a conversation that is casual and time limited.  Chances are they are busy so don’t take too much of their time.  Let them know why you want to take them to coffee which can be as simple as the fact that you are interested in hearing about their career path and gathering advice in navigating your own career trajectory. Everyone likes talking about themselves so listen to their story and ask thoughtful questions.  It will also give you a chance to sneak in some personal tidbits about yourself, which will helps them see your depth and increases the likelihood that they will think of you for future opportunities.

6.  Put yourself out there.  It can be intimidating to ask someone 1-2 levels above you for their time but don’t let that stop you.  It’s best if you have some sort of a connection to them prior to reaching out in order to get the ball rolling.  Did you just chat with them at the company holiday party?  Did they go to the same undergrad institution? Do your research before the meeting, identify questions to ask and what you hope to get out of the meeting.  Show enthusiasm, tenacity, respect, and thoughtfulness. No one can argue with enthusiasm, as long as it’s polite!  If you are unsure of what the line is between eagerness and over doing it, get a second opinion from a friend who you think shows professionalism in his/her workplace.

For more information on finding a mentor check out this article from Fast Company.
Learn more about how sponsorship differs from mentorship and why sponsors really need YOU.

Check out our archived webinar on making the most of mentoring.

We want to know: how have mentors shaped your career?

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