Finding a Mentor can be a great way to learn, develop and accelerate your career. Use this guide – How to find a mentor in 3 easy steps – to find a mentor and establish a successful Mentoring partnership with them.
First, let’s explore our understanding of Mentor, just to make sure we’re on the same track. Here’s a dictionary definition:
Mentor: an experienced and trusted adviser
Each of those words is relevant to finding a mentor for yourself. A Mentor must be:
Experienced: because fundamentally that’s what a Mentor does, they share their experience with you. As a result, you need to find someone who has experience that is relevant to your interests and development needs.
Trusted: you must be able to build a trusting relationship with your Mentor. Part of this is trusting them to keep the conversation confidential (and they must trust you to do the same!).
An adviser: it’s important to note that a Mentor advises you, they do not direct you (or have any authority over you). It’s for you to reflect on the advice you’re given and own any actions that you choose to take.
The benefits of having a Mentor
You’ll learn and develop by tapping into the ‘career assets’ of someone with more experience than yourself. There are 4 types of career assets that a Mentor has to offer, their:
For example, if you’re about to start work on a new type of project, your Mentor might share their experience of how to make that type of project a success.
Your Mentor may have reports, books, or other resources that are relevant to your development that they can share with you.
Or your Mentor may have someone in their network, that they can introduce you to, with the experience and expertise to guide and advise you on a specific topic you’re interested in (if they don’t have that experience themselves).
Learning from a Mentor, through discussion and exploration, is a great way to improve your performance and plan your career!
What makes an ideal Mentor?
It’s easy to get lost in this question of ‘how to find a Mentor’ and forget that essentially, you’re just developing another working relationship. The best advice is “don’t over think it”.
There are a few key points to keep in mind.
Like any relationship, there needs to be that intangible mutual ‘fit’. There needs to be the potential to like and trust each other.
There needs to be a sense of mutual benefit too. As the ‘Mentee’ don’t under-estimate the value of the experience for a Mentor. It’s easy for you to think you’re the only one that’s going to benefit. But it’s not all a one-way street.
Mentors get value from the relationship too.
When a Mentor considers your questions, reflects on their experience and consolidates what they have learnt, they are gaining insights too.
A good Mentor will also have good communication and time management skills.
Finally, and most fundamentally, your Mentor must have the right career profile to match your interests and development needs. They must have the experience, knowledge, resources and network to be able to help you.
How to find a Mentor
This 3-step process is based on our experience of designing and developing Mentoring programs for several US and Asia-based multinationals. We’ve taken our own experience and insights and converted them into this ‘How to find a mentor’ guide.
1: Explore your development goals
The biggest mistake that we see potential Mentees make is failing to invest time up-front in understanding their own development goals.
Invest some time in exploring your development goals and you’ll find it much easier to identify potential Mentors who can support you.
One key question to ask yourself:
Is my focus on improving in my current role or preparing for future roles?
To improve in your current role, explore your development needs by:
- Reflecting on what you do well, what you need to improve
- Discussing your performance and opportunities for development with your manager
- Exploring your role profile or job description (if it’s any good it should define the competencies that you need for the role you’re in!)
To prepare for future roles, your focus will be a little different, ask yourself:
- What role would I like to be in, at the end of my career?
- What would be 1-2 possible roles that would be logical next steps forward?
- What skills, knowledge and experience do I need to develop to prepare for those future roles?
If your company has well defined career frameworks and role profiles, you can also explore these resources. As you do so, write down the skills, industry knowledge and functional expertise that you want to develop.
You may also have broader development goals related to how to be successful in your current organization.
For example, it’s reasonable to want to:
- Better understand my company strategy, market environment and competitors
- Better understand the IT trends within my industry
- Better understand my local market
Writing down all these development needs will provide you with a strong foundation for finding a Mentor. (Some of these needs can be met just by research and reading, it’s can also be useful to have a Mentor to help you.)
These development needs and career goals may evolve as you get into conversation with a Mentor, but you must have this clarity and focus to as a starting point.
2. Identify a pool of potential mentors
Here are 9 tips on how to identify a pool of potential mentors:
Be guided by your development needs. Yes, it’s always about your development! Think of your development needs and the profile of potential Mentors. You want to create as much ‘overall’ as possible. This area of overlap, where your development needs match the potential Mentor’s profile, is the ‘sweet spot’ for a successful Mentoring relationship.
Look 1-2 layers above you. One of the common mistakes is to look too senior within the organization for a Mentor. It might feel prestigious to have a senior Mentor, but they’re less likely to be able to help you. Ideally you want someone with recent experience of the challenges your facing, and you’ll find those people by looking 1-2 layers above you.
Look across the organization. Don’t consider your manager, they are responsible for supporting your overall development and should already be working with you in this way. The value of a Mentor is additional support. Also, you probably don’t want your manager’s manager as a Mentor (they’re a little too close to your manager, and you’re likely discussing topics you want to be sure are confidential). You need to look up and across the organization.
Prioritize people you already know. It’s unlikely you’ll strike up a Mentoring relationship with someone you don’t know. It’s just too big a leap. (If you don’t know enough people, then look at our ‘reach out’ guidance below.)
Talk with your HR team. Your HR team is also responsible for supporting your development and they may have experience and ideas that will be of use to you (who knows, they may even be running a Mentoring program!). It’s worth having a quick word with them.
Ask your trusted coworkers. You can also reach out to your trusted coworkers, ask their advice based on managers and leaders that they have worked with previously.
Do some basic research. Use LinkedIn to understand a little more about the profiles of potential Mentors to see if their experience matches your development needs.
Consider previous managers. Previous managers can make ideal Mentors (depending on your development needs). The benefit is that they already know you well and there is a level of trust in the relationship already (hopefully!).
Explore industry networks / previous colleagues. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a Mentor from outside of your current company (again, it all depends on your development needs!). Consider your industry networks and previous colleagues or managers. If your industry network is not big enough, look at ‘Reach out and get started’ below.
3. Reach out and get started
Once you have a pool of potential Mentors your next step is to start reaching out and contacting them.
To do this you need to tap into your networking skills.
There’s no need to reach out and ask: “will you be my Mentor?” (not initially at least). A much better approach is to simple reach out and ask for advice.
Something like this:
I’m interested to understand XXX better, I know you have this experience and I’d really appreciate your advice. Would it be possible for us to meet up over a coffee to discuss?
That may seem like a challenging thing to do, but most people will appreciate your proactive approach. (And if they don’t respond positively, they’re not Mentor material anyway!)
If the conversation goes well, take it to the next step:
I really appreciate your time helping me with this and I’ve enjoyed our conversation, do you think we could get together and chat again, maybe next month? I won’t take up too much of your time.
And if the next conversation goes well, take it to the next step:
I’m really benefiting from your advice and guidance, you’re becoming a Mentor to me, which I really appreciate, do you think we could catch up for a chat on a monthly basis?
If you take this approach with 2-3 potential Mentors you may find that you have a pool of active Mentors, each supporting you in different aspects of your development and your career!
Build a successful Mentoring partnership
To make the ongoing relationship a successful Mentoring partnership there are a few simple things that we recommend you do.
Be active, lead the relationship. There’s a lot to this: you need to get good at asking questions using different questioning techniques. You need to take action between the meetings, based on the conversations you’ve had (this might be taking action within your day-to-day work, or doing some additional research or reading, or reaching out to someone your Mentor has recommended), you also need to do simple things like suggesting meeting times, organizing coffees and all the little things that signal your appreciation of their support.
Confirm that the conversations are confidential. At some point, as you start to deepen the working relationship and share your own thinking, you’re going to have that nagging doubt at the back of your mind “are these conversations confidential?”. You need to look you Mentor in the eye and confirm that with them using words that are clear and unambiguous. One point to note, if you’re Mentor is sharing their own thoughts, in an open and candid way, that’s a good sign you can trust them with your thoughts too.
Take occasional ‘time-outs’. Like any relationship, sometimes it’s good to take a time-out. Invite them for a Friday lunch and talk about everything except work.
Check that the relationship is working for your Mentor too. If you’re tuned into the relationship, you’ll have a good sense of whether it’s working for your Mentor too. But there’s also no harm in asking directly (once the relationship has deepened a little) “how does it feel to be a Mentor?” and “I really appreciate your advice and guidance, I’m curious, do you see benefits for your own career in being a Mentor?”.
It may just prompt them to think about your working relationship in new ways.
How to find a Mentor: in summary
Finding a Mentor can be a great way to learn, develop and accelerate your career. Use this ‘How to find a Mentor’ guide to get started.
A Mentor will share their ‘career assets’: their experience, knowledge, resources and network to improve your performance and accelerate your career.
Don’t forget, Mentors get value from the relationship too. As they reflect on their experience to answer your questions they are learning too.
How to find a mentor starts with exploring your development goals: either improving in your current role or preparing for future roles. You need this clarity as a starting point.
Identify potential Mentors, then reach out with a request for advice.
Be proactive in building the relationship, and take action between meetings with your Mentor, and you’ll soon be developing and accelerating your career!