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How to find a mentor: Your essential checklist
If you’re just starting out in your career and want advice, or you’re a seasoned expert in your field, mentoring can help you learn and develop both professionally and personally. Studies have shown mentees are promoted up to five times more than those who don’t have a mentor. And 25% of employees who are in a mentoring program had a change in salary compared to 5% of those who weren’t.
The benefits of mentoring are advocated far and wide but the actual process to find a suitable mentor is equally as important as the act of mentoring itself. If you’re on the lookout for your next mentor, here’s what you need to keep in mind.
Map out your goals and your expectations
Before you start reaching out to potential mentors, you need to be clear about exactly what it is you hope to get from your mentor. Your mentor is there to help provide you with advice and guidance, and they can only do this if you are clear about exactly what it is you need – plus, this helps you set expectations when you approach potential mentors.
Think about questions like:
- What do you want to accomplish professionally and how can your mentor help you get there?
- Do you need a sounding board or are you looking for someone to take a more active approach?
- What are you hoping to learn from your mentor?
- What level of commitment are you expecting? Do you want regular catch-ups or something more informal? How long will the relationship last officially - is it a few months, or is it more long term?
Write a list of potential mentors
Once you are clear on the expectations and outcomes from your mentor, it’s time to think about who can help you reach these goals. Not everyone has the time to commit to being a mentor, meaning that even if you have one person in mind, it helps to have a list of several people who you think could be a good fit.
There are two ways to go about finding your mentor: you can look around your existing networks for people who have the strengths and skills you’re looking for, or you can venture outside and look for someone who has a job you want or who you aspire to be like professionally. Keep in mind, your mentor doesn’t necessarily have to work in your field.
If you’re not sure where to look, consider:
- Your LinkedIn connections
- Any professional groups you’re currently part of
- People within your current company or previous companies (bearing in mind they can work outside your department)
- External partners who you have worked with throughout your career, such as a partner agency
- Websites such as NZ Mentor, Cultivate Mentoring Lab for women, and NZ Youth Mentoring Network
- Bloggers or writers you follow in professional publications
Another option is to look at dedicated mentoring programs, which offer more structure over a fixed period of time. Look to your own workplace to see if the company already has one in place. The organisers of mentoring programs usually have extensive career coaching and mentoring experience, and can connect you to potential candidates in their network and beyond.
RELATED: The value of having a mentor
Get to know your shortlist
Rather than asking someone to be your mentor straight off the bat, take time to get to know your prospective mentors. Take a look at the projects they’ve worked on, any blogs they’ve written, and what roles they’ve had professionally. This can help you understand more about who they are professionally and what they’ve done to help them get to that point, plus when you approach them, you’ll be able to show you’ve done your research.
Once you’ve done this, try to arrange an informal coffee catch-up to sit down and have a chat to learn more about them. This meeting isn’t the time to ask if they’ll be your mentor. Treat it more like a “get to know you” session where you can test the water to see if you could work together, understand the value they may bring to the table as a mentor, and gauge if they’re open to the idea of mentoring.
Prepare your approach
Before you reach out to your potential mentors, it helps to plan out how you will approach it. If you’re building a relationship, it might be worth taking some time to invest in getting to know them a bit more and establishing rapport before asking; if you’re more familiar with one another, then you can move more quickly in your approach.
Once you do ask, try to keep it as flexible as possible. Many entrepreneurs or executives are worried about committing to mentoring in an official capacity as they fear they might not be able to meet their mentee’s expectations. The less pressure that’s on them, the better. However, don’t be afraid to be clear on what you hope to gain from the relationship.
Remember, a mentor isn’t a career adviser
While mentors are a great resource, they’re not the same as a career adviser or career coach. This means firstly, in terms of commitment and time, you both need to be flexible. After all, your mentor most likely needs to juggle many different priorities on top of working with you.
If your mentor asks for a fee, consider this a red flag: if you’re paying for career advice and guidance, you’re venturing into career counselling or coaching territory, and this comes with a different host of expectations and responsibilities.
And lastly, don’t be discouraged
Being a mentor is a big commitment, and if a potential mentor on your shortlist decides they can’t commit right now, it doesn’t mean the door is closed forever. You can have different mentors for different stages of your career, and if the timing isn’t right, it could be at some point in the future.