When I first entered the workforce, I was lost. Despite essentially living at my college’s career center and holding countless jobs and internships before graduation, I was still unprepared for the realities of the office. (And a few years later, the comfort I’d built up came crashing down when remote work became the norm.) But through experience and by connecting with the resources available to me, my career and professional life began to take shape in a way that I was proud of. And then, to uplevel these skills, I knew it was time to learn how to find a mentor.
But that decision to find a mentor put me back at square one. How the heck did I find someone who would want to mentor me—an early twenty-something with little insight and experience to offer in return? I knew it would be a crucial part of my career trajectory, but I had no idea where to begin.
Featured image by Belathée Photography.
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How to Find a Mentor: An Expert’s Top Tips
The question of how to find a mentor is one that puzzles both entry-level employees and workforce veterans. In a culture that’s not often comfortable with asking for help, it can feel like a sign of incompetence to come to someone with questions. But hello… admitting you don’t know something is an important step toward growth. So if you’re ready to transform your career and grow deeper in your professional pursuits, a mentor could be just what you need.
I spoke with Naomi Rothwell-Boyd, an EMCC and CIPD-accredited career and performance coach and the founder of Tribe and Seek, a resource for anyone looking to make a career change and explore a more meaningful path. Read on for Naomi’s answers and insights into finding a mentor who can support you in designing the career of your dreams.
What should you do before looking for a mentor?
Before going out to find a mentor, it is important to take the time to assess your needs and goals. Think about areas you want to develop or skills that you need help with, as this will help you determine what type of mentor can best support your growth.
What are your top tips for finding a mentor?
Finding a mentor can be done through research and networking. Start by researching potential mentors in your field or area of interest. Read up on their profiles and read reviews from those who have worked with them before.
Once you have identified one or two prospective mentors, reach out to them! Send an email, make a phone call, or even attend a conference, event, or meetup they are attending to introduce yourself and politely inquire about mentorship opportunities. You can also use social media outlets like LinkedIn to contact potential mentors. Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations from people you know in your field or industry who may have had successful experiences with a mentor before.
What qualities should you look for in a mentor?
When looking for a mentor, look for someone who displays qualities such as experience, knowledge, empathy, and patience. Your mentor should have strong communication skills and be able to provide meaningful advice and feedback in an effective manner that suits your communication style. It’s also important to find someone who is open and willing to commit their time when needed.
Can you explain the different styles of mentorship?
There are three main styles of mentorship: formal, informal, and peer.
Formal mentorship is a structured relationship between a mentor and mentee. This type of relationship is often used in corporate settings where the mentor provides advice, guidance, and feedback on professional goals and career paths. Formal mentorships are often mutually beneficial because they provide an opportunity for learning while also allowing the mentor to extend their reach and influence within their field or industry.
Informal mentorship is usually less structured than formal relationships, but still offers guidance. It can grow out of existing relationships or be sought out through networking events or online communities. Informal mentors may help shape your career paths, provide ideas on how to stay current with trends in your field, or even offer personal advice that can apply to other areas of life as well.
Peer mentoring is similar to informal mentoring but allows two peers (i.e., two people who are at the same level in terms of experience) to exchange experiences, knowledge, and skills with each other. Peer mentorships have increased in popularity as more people recognize the value of learning from peers who may have experienced similar challenges or achieved success in their own careers.
When deciding which type of mentor-mentee relationship to pursue, consider what you hope to gain from it and how much time you want to commit to it. Formal mentorships are best suited for those who need more oversight while pursuing professional goals while informal and peer mentoring is better suited for those seeking advice on soft skills such as communication or leadership abilities.
Should you pay a mentor? If so, how much?
Mentoring is usually not paid as it is different to career coaching.
Informal or peer mentoring is by definition an informal arrangement where the mentor is offering you their help without being paid. Then the goal of formal mentoring is to teach a specific set of skills and/or knowledge person to person. The end goal here is mostly dictated by the other person giving you mentoring, usually an employer trying to upskill their employees. Therefore it is most common to either find your own informal mentor that you don’t pay, or for your employer to cover the cost of any formal mentoring.
This is different from career coaching where you would hire a coach. While career coaching is also delivered one-on-one like mentoring, the destination is set by the participant, not the Coach, and usually isn’t confined to only a specific set of knowledge or skills. Coaches get you to where you want to be, they don’t dictate where you should be. Coaches are also accredited practitioners whereas mentoring usually doesn’t require any formal training.
Editor’s note: For more info on hiring a career coach, read Naomi’s post.
What would be a situation in which you wouldn’t pay a mentor? Should you compensate them in another way?
There are several reasons why someone may choose to mentor you for free. It could be because they genuinely want to help and have a passion for mentorship, or it could be because the mentor believes that a mutually beneficial relationship can arise from this dynamic. Many mentors also offer free mentoring in order to build their network, gain insights or ideas that could benefit them professionally, or even learn something new from the exchange itself. Whatever the reason, it’s always important to remember that any type of mentorship requires time and dedication on both sides.
How can we get the most out of a mentorship?
- Develop and maintain open communication with your mentor. Establishing and nurturing an open communication line with your mentor is essential for a successful mentorship experience. Ask questions and be honest about any expectations you have so that both parties are on the same page.
- Respect your mentor’s time. Your mentor has likely dedicated significant time and energy to helping you out, so it’s important to respect their schedule and commitments. Make sure to check in with them regularly, but don’t overburden them with too many requests or expect an immediate response every time.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for your mentor to come up with all the solutions or answers. Take initiative by doing research on your own and coming prepared with questions or solutions when you meet. Your mentor will appreciate your enthusiasm and dedication to succeeding in whatever goals you have set for yourself.
- Stay open-minded. Mentors can offer valuable insights that may challenge your thinking or push you outside of your comfort zone—this is a good thing! To get the most out of mentoring, it’s important to stay open-minded, even if what they are suggesting goes against your initial ideas or opinions.
How do you know when it’s time to end a mentorship? How can you do so respectfully?
Knowing when it’s time to end a mentorship is never easy and usually relies on assessing the current situation, discussing expectations with your mentor, and communicating clearly. Here are some tips that can help you end your mentorship respectfully and kindly.
Talk to your mentor. Before making a decision, have an open conversation with your mentor about the relationship and how it has grown over time. This will give you both an opportunity to express your points of view, reassess expectations, and come to a mutual understanding about where the relationship stands.
Give notice upfront. Letting your mentor know well in advance that you intend to end the mentorship will give them ample time to adjust and prepare for any necessary changes.
Thank them for their time. Show your appreciation by thanking them for their guidance and support throughout the relationship. Depending on the duration of your mentorship, you might even consider sending a gift or writing a personalized letter expressing all that they have done for you.