The career advancement muses must be circling because I received two questions within the same week on how to land a mentor. One inquiry came from an experienced and high-ranking professional, which only underscores that, at every stage in your career, mentors are critical. Mentors can provide information, advice, candid feedback, even role playing practice for sticky situations. Here are 10 ways to land a mentor:
Read this book to determine if you need a sponsor instead.
By far my favorite book on the subject of mentoring is by Sylvia Ann Hewlett: Forget A Mentor, Find A Sponsor. Hewlett distinguishes between the counselor-type Mentor who advises but is otherwise hands-off and the more active Sponsor, who in addition to advising puts his or her credibility and political capital on the line to help you out.
Don’t limit yourself to one type of mentor.
Sponsors are important but not the only kind of mentor. If you’re new to a company and looking to get more plugged in, you may need a Shepherd – you can think of this as the company’s social pulse. This mentor may not be a senior person and may even be junior to you, but s/he knows everyone and everything that’s going on. You may want to work on a particular skill (or several). Think about building a team of mentors, much like a company has a Board of Directors. For a company, the Board typically represents diverse expertise in legal, financial, operations, marketing, etc. You may want a mentor to help you with negotiation, another to help you with your executive presence, yet another to help you think more strategically.
Don’t limit yourself to one mentor at a time.
You don’t have to choose among Sponsors, Shepherds or building a Board. You can have more than one mentor at a time. The practical reality is that people are busy, and you are likely not going to see your mentor that often, so you can juggle several, as long as you’re organized and have the bandwidth to manage it. Recognizing that you can choose multiple mentors also takes the pressure off of you to land any single one.
Look outside your current company, industry, and level.
In addition to considering different types of mentors and more than one mentor, broaden your search outside your company. Consider mentors from industry associations, your alma mater, previous companies, or connections within your general network. Mentors outside your industry can prevent your thinking from becoming too insular. Mentors at different levels can give you much needed perspective now that companies routinely have up to four generations in the workplace simultaneously.
Start slow and build.
Now that you have a big pool to choose from, don’t just dive in, get on bended knee and ask someone to be your mentor. That’s too much pressure (even without the bended knee part). For people you’re considering, start with a lunch, coffee, or simply a conversation. Make sure there’s chemistry and that the person is responsive to you. After that first meeting, ask if you can call on that person again. If they’re open to that and confirm how they prefer to be contacted and how frequently. Then, initiate that next contact and repeat the process. After a few of these meetings, let the person know how helpful they have been and ask if you they could be a sounding board, advisor, or confidante. You can also use the term “mentor” if you don’t think that person will think it’s too formal. The point is that you never have to say the word mentor for the relationship to still give you mentoring.
The process of starting slow and building is also helpful to ensure that you can make progress in-between meetings. When you ask for advice, you want to act on it and show results. Even when you’re catching up, you want to have something to say – a project you’re working on, a skill you’re learning. You want to be mentor-worthy – someone who’s out and about, making things happen, and not just depending on others for help. One way of seeing firsthand how to be mentor-worthy is to spend some time as a mentor yourself (even if you’re just starting out, there is someone somewhere that you can mentor).
It also helps if you’re organized so you can schedule these meetings, set an agenda, and follow-up with your results or a status update. Building a mentor relationship is not just about the actual meetings, but all of the in-between and logistics to support these. This is your responsibility because you’re the one who needs the help. Some mentors are better than others about checking in – don’t wait for them. Also don’t ask too general questions or come without specific details or data that are pertinent to where you need help. Help the mentor help you.
Share hits and misses.
Being mentor-worthy means you’re acting on advice, yes, but it doesn’t mean the advice always has to work. Don’t feel like you can only share the happy results. Sharing what doesn’t work allows the mentor to refine his/ her advice. It also gives you additional issues to work on.
Know when and how to exit gracefully.
Sometimes your mentor helps you through a particular problem or time – e.g., working with a difficult boss, getting a promotion – and then you don’t have that mentorship need anymore. Keep the relationship, just not the mentorship! You can meet less often, change the topics of conversation when you do meet, or if you want to make a more formal closure, thank your mentor profusely and ask them how they’d like to proceed. They might be relieved to just keep in touch informally.
Know when you need professional help.
By professional help, I don’t mean a therapist. I just mean paid support, rather than a voluntary mentorship. Your mentor is not a trainer for teaching you skills – take a class for that. By all means use your mentor to figure out how to best apply your new skills to your career, but get the basics taken care of on your own time and dime.
Whether you’re just starting out or already an experienced executive, mentors are so valuable. Don’t delay in establishing these critical relationships. Which step (or steps) will you take today to land a mentor?
This article was written by Caroline Ceniza-Levine from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.