How to find a mentor who can positively impact your professional future
Throughout your life, you’ve probably had numerous mentors. They were the people who encouraged you to sit taller, speak louder and set goals aimed at future success. Mentors come and go, but the ones who appear at critical moments in your life can make all the difference — they’re unmistakably valuable.
It follows, then, that the beginning of your career is one of those times that warrants a mentor. But approaching someone and asking them for guidance can be intimidating. Thankfully, there are career development experts who have plenty of actionable advice.
Katy Curameng, director of career planning and development at University of Massachusetts Global, shared some insight into what mentorship looks like in the professional world and how those relationships form in the first place. If you want to know how to find a mentor, you might want to start with determining the type of guidance you’re craving.
4 Common types of career mentors
Before you begin searching for a mentor, you should take some time to identify what leadership style tends to work best for you. It can vary depending on where you are in your career. According to Curameng, the four common career mentor types are:
The Advocate: This mentor intervenes on your behalf, representing your ideas to higher-level management. They help connect you with useful people in your organization or industry. They may also arrange for you to participate in high-visibility activities within or outside your organization.
The Developer: This experienced professional can help you develop your strengths, skills and career potential. Often a role model with years of experience and success, they will work with you to plan the next steps in your career.
The Peer: This type of mentor is someone at a similar point in their career, and the relationship you have is reciprocal. You work through things together, sharing both successes and failures and learning from each other as you go.
The Coach: This professional helps you think through problems by listening, challenging and asking reflective questions. They won’t tell you what to do, but will help you uncover the resolution yourself. They often help you see the bigger picture when thinking through an issue.
How to find a career mentor
Regardless of which type of mentor you’re looking for, it’s important to identify what you hope to gain. You want to be able to work together in a way that respects their time while allowing you to work toward your goals. Though this will take some effort on your part, the investment will be well worth it.
“The mentee most often takes the initiative in a mentoring relationship, so they should be prepared with what they are looking for,” Curameng says. She offers a list of questions that can help you determine who might be able to best help you:
- What personal qualities do I need to develop to achieve my career goals?
- Which competencies do I need to learn to close a skill gap? (consider both soft and hard skills)
- Is there a process, project or job that I would like to gain exposure to?
- Do I need guidance in a particular area?
- How can a mentor help me the most?
- Is there a particular personality type I work best with? (organized, creative, open, etc.)
- What is my communication style?
- Do I prefer to work with someone with a similar background?
Whether you already have an intended career trajectory or need someone to help you identify which direction to go, there are a few ways to find and approach potential mentors. You may be able to go through your workplace or even leverage programs that exist at your alma mater.
Informal office settings
If your organization doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, don’t stress about it too much. Informal mentoring can occur just as easily. Think about how you can get started with some low-effort tactics.
“It can be a quick phone call or email,” Curameng says. “It can occur in passing while getting coffee in the morning.”
When you respect what someone has to offer and are seeking their guidance, that is mentoring. It doesn’t have to be fancy.
It’s up to you whether you want to directly ask a coworker to be your mentor. If that seems intimidating, try approaching them with one goal or issue. How do they respond? It’s possible they may leave the door open for further advice.
“Relationships often happen spontaneously in the workplace when one of the parties asks for or offers guidance,” Curameng explains.
You don’t have to limit yourself to one mentor, either. If you can identify more than one individual you admire, don’t hold yourself back. Different people have different strengths that you can learn from.
“You may have several people who serve in a mentoring capacity at any given time, each bringing a different perspective and set of experiences,” Curameng suggests. “Each of them plays a different role in influencing and supporting your development.”
Another great way to get connected to mentors is through college alumni networks. Some schools, such as University of Massachusetts Global, even have online programs built specifically for this purpose. Users are matched with graduates and faculty based on factors like industry, area of study, military status or whether they’re first-generation college students.
Not only do alumni-based programs make it easier to find a well-suited mentor, but they also ensure that the person you ask is interested in that sort of relationship. They can share upfront what kind of mentoring they’re open to—whether that’s offering quick career advice, opening doors at their workplace, regularly meeting for mentoring or even all of the above. This also allows you to search for mentors based on the type of support you’re looking for.
"Maybe you're a new manager and you're worried about giving constructive feedback to your staff,” suggests Jana Cupp, director of alumni relations at University of Massachusetts Global. “You can find somebody who's been in a management role for a while and is willing to give career advice.” This capability, she adds, is intentional. “As a 21st-century learning university for working adults, our main focus is on providing service at your fingertips.”
Tips for being a good mentee
Once you’ve found a mentor, you’ll want to ensure they have an equally positive experience. Be thoughtful about how you nurture the relationship. Curameng suggests the following for new mentees:
- Be respectful of your mentor’s time by keeping commitments with them and thanking them for the opportunity.
- Ask for suggestions and advice, listen carefully, and always apply at least some of what is offered.
- Remember that they are not there to solve your personal problems or get you a job. This is an opportunity for you to grow professionally.
- Send follow-up messages with a specific insight that you gained during a meeting or let them know when you experience success as a result of their guidance.
Advance your professional life with a career mentor
Growth continues long after college graduation. This is why understanding how to find a mentor in the workplace is so critical. By forming deep connections with those who have wisdom to offer, you can reap the benefits throughout your lifetime.
Though a good career mentor can help you in many ways, keep in mind that there are other opportunities to advance your professional life. For more ideas on how you can continue to grow and improve, check out our article, “Career development goals: 5 ways to drive your professional life forward.”
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