Want to Propel Your Career Goals? Find a Mentor

By Michele Richardson

CTU - The importance of mentoring by Michele RichardsonWhether you’re embarking on a new career path or you’re stuck in a career plateau, a mentor can move you career in the direction you want it to go. Mentoring is one of the most powerful, effective ways to learn and grow professionally. Mentoring can help you:

  • Develop critical skills needed to advance your career
  • Tackle challenges and other career road blocks
  • Improve your interpersonal and communication skills
  • Enlarge your perspective and thinking
  • Grow your professional network

But having a mentor isn’t enough. To make the relationship work, you need to know what a mentor is and what to expect.

What is mentoring?

First and foremost, mentoring is a partnership between two people who share a common goal to grow personally and professionally. The “mentor” is an experienced professional who shares knowledge and insights with a less experienced “mentee.” A mentor takes a personal interest in your career goals and acts as a role model, offering advice and encouragement as you pursue your career goals.

It’s important to understand that a mentor is not responsible for your career growth – you are. Approach the relationship with an open-mind and be willing to act on the advice you receive. Also recognize that the most successful mentoring relationships offer benefits to both the mentor and the mentee. Some people become mentors to “pay it forward,” while others are looking to improve their leadership and communication skills. Mentoring should benefit both parties.

Are you ready for mentoring?

Mentoring sounds great and you’re excited about what you might achieve from the partnership, but are you ready? Before you engage in a mentoring relationship be sure to:

  • Clarify what you want. Mentoring relationships can form in a variety of ways, from a formal mentoring program offered by an employer to an informal relationship that convenes over monthly coffee meet-ups. Before you dive into mentoring, spend time thinking about what you want to get out of it. Be specific. Having a clear idea of your expectations helps ease the process of finding the right mentor and gets the relationship off to a strong start.
  • Be receptive. A fundamental part of mentoring is personal and professional growth, and to grow you must be willing to change. A mentor will share experiences and offer advice, but you’re in charge of taking action. Sometimes the advice will force you to stretch outside of your comfort zone. If you’re not open learning or trying a different approach to tackling your career goals, you may not be ready for mentoring.

Finding the right mentor

Now that you’ve decided you need a mentor and you’re ready to engage in a productive mentoring relationship, it’s time to find a mentor. Of course, that may be easier said than done.
Finding a mentor can be tough and it might take some time. You may be tempted to ask your boss to be your mentor, but that’s not advised. The nature of the supervisory role can create awkward moments in the mentoring relationship. An alternative is to look outside of your immediate department or company. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Start with who you know. Mine your LinkedIn connections to uncover potential mentors. Depending on your goals, you might approach someone who is outside of your industry and career interests because he or she has specific skills, like leadership, that would be helpful in your career growth.
  • Use your alumni network. Your past high school or college is a great place to reconnect with old contacts and form new relationships with those who share a common experience. Access the alumni services for your school to find out how to get in touch with potential mentors. You might reach out to people individually or attend an alumni event.
  • Look down and across, not up. Most people think a mentor must be someone older, wiser and more senior in their career path. That’s not always true. A mentor can be younger than you and have a more junior ranking job title. But if they have a specific skill or area of expertise you want to tap into, then they might be a good fit.

A mentor is a valuable asset for many successful professionals. The key to forming a good mentoring relationship is to think “mutual benefit” and to be open to possibilities. Also remember that a mentoring relationship will look different for everyone so don’t get wrapped up in one specific way of making it happen. As you begin seeking a mentor, chances are, you’ll land in a place you never expected.

What step will you take to find a mentor? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below. 

CTU Career Advice - Michele RichardsonA seasoned HR/organization development professional turned copywriter in 2005, Michele Richardson specializes in content strategy and writing for the digital world. When she’s not working or writing, you can find her curled up with a book and cup of Americano or training for her next half-marathon. Catch up with her on Google+ or Twitter.

Image credit: Flickr/ jurvetson