Need a secret weapon to boost your career? Find a mentor

Are you at the stage in your career where having a mentor seems of most benefit to your development? Perhaps you’re feeling you are almost ready for the next step but are in need of both support and challenge to get there.

The benefits of having a mentor can be very powerful whatever level of seniority you hold. They can help you gain insight into your industry and share their knowledge, improve your performance and plan your personal development, act as a sounding board, and help lessen the isolation of seniority. They can also help you learn how to become a mentor yourself.

But while having a mentor is a good idea, unless your current company has a mentoring scheme in place (and some do) the reality of trying to find the right one can be challenging.

Think about what you need:

  • Be clear about what you need. To find the right mentor you need to have thought through what you want from the relationship. Do you want to learn from a role model, are you looking for direction in filling any gaps in your experience, are you wanting access to networks and contacts or simply a sounding board?
  • Be clear about your mentor’s background – is it important that they are in your industry or area of expertise or would you benefit from having someone from a completely different field. Think about seniority as well – they don’t need to be older than you but they do need to have had more experience.
  • Think about chemistry – what personality traits or behaviours do you respond well to?

How to find a good mentor

There are many routes to find a mentor so experiment with a few:

  • Think broadly and consider who is doing what you want to be doing, in the way you want to do it but is 10 steps ahead of you in your field, role or industry.
  • Review if there is someone in your current company who inspires you, embodies your values and who you view as a good role model.
  • Talk to your line manager as part of your career development. They have contacts and because they know you well, they should be able to recommend people in your sector who could be a match for you.
  • Use your own networks and LinkedIn to identify someone who meets the criteria you have developed for your mentor requirements. Connect with new people who you can help, and who will find it a mutually-rewarding and beneficial experience to support you.
  • Consider a trained mentor. There are organisations who act as portals to match you with a mentor. These can be sector or business specific, and the advantage is that the mentor has been trained and is willing to take on a mentee. Mentorsme.co.uk partners employees of small businesses with business professionals, and mentorset.org.uk provide independent mentors for women working in STEM.

How to make the approach 

Once you have identified your potential mentor you need to get on their radar to make it easier for them to say ‘yes’ when you do approach them. It may require a bit of time and work but it will be worthwhile.

  • Work out how you can you be helpful to them – if it’s appropriate follow their work, tweet their posts, comment on their blogs, share updates, etc.
  • Think about how can you meet them – are they speaking at or attending an event? Make sure you introduce yourself and follow up with an email.
  • Make yourself an attractive mentee – demonstrate you’re open, flexible, eager to learn and committed to your development. Be active and contribute to debates in for example, LinkedIn groups where they may be a member; volunteer to take on projects which may get you exposure in your industry, write an article and get it published in a relevant publication.
  • Then when you’ve laid the ground work you can think about an actual approach. Ideally, if one of your contacts knows them then they can make an initial introduction for you. If not contact them to arrange a coffee or a meeting at their office, or email them. Be clear about what you are looking for from the mentoring relationship with them and the commitment involved. Set out the benefits to them and why you have chosen them. Most people will be flattered to be asked to be a mentor, so don’t be scared of making the pitch, the only difficulty may be demands on their time.

How to make it work

Good mentor relationships only work if there are clear agreed boundaries on both sides. Once your mentor has said ‘yes’ then you need to agree an informal contract on how you are going to work together. This can include how often you will meet and for how long, the length of the mentor relationship, confidentiality and goals for the relationship. Building in a review after 3 months can also be a good idea so if it’s not working for whatever reason both sides have an opportunity to end the relationship.

Done well mentoring can be inspiring and empowering for both sides but like any partnership the keys to that success are having chemistry, ground rules and commitment.

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