How to Find a Mentor

“How to Find a Mentor” is Part 2 of a 3-part series.

  • Part 1: What is a Mentor?
  • Part 3: 10 Ways a Mentor is Different than a Champion ***COMING SOON***

Most Successful Careers Have a Team Behind Them

Savvy leaders know that having a team (or Personal Board of Directors) that supports them in making career decisions, provides them perspective and advice, helps them with technical issues, and assists in their leadership development is vital to them reaching their full career potential.

A Personal Board

I first heard about the concept of a Personal Board from Vance Caesar, Ph.D., Executive Coach and co-author of “The Happy High Achiever” and author of “Uncommon Career Success.” Vance said that leaders who have a Personal Board are much more successful and I have observed this to be true.

This team of advisors may include some, or all, of the following (depending on the leader’s needs):

  • An Executive Coach
  • A career mentor
  • A technical mentor
  • An industry mentor
  • A peer advisor
  • A business consultant
  • An attorney
  • Selected members of their corporate team
  • A wellness coach or personal trainer
  • A therapist

Some of these advisors may meet with the leader together, but most will meet with the leader one-on-one or over the phone. These relationships may be formal and structured, while others may be on an as-needed basis.

In past blogs, we’ve talked about how obtaining a Leadership Coach is a big step toward creating greater leadership success.

Equally important is obtaining a highly experienced mentor. and, it’s important to note that having a Leadership or Executive Coach does not preclude a leader from having a mentor and vice versa.  Coaches and mentors serve very different purposes.

The Difference Between a Leadership Coach and a Mentor

Leadership Coaches have special training in how to coach a leader to access their full potential, accelerate their learning and growth, develop their leadership skills, overcome limiting beliefs, shape their leadership approach, and set meaningful leadership development goals.  Coaches are also guided by professional ethics and keep your relationship and the information you share confidential. They are also unbiased.

Mentors are leaders who help their mentees move their careers forward through sharing specific job, business function, technical, company, and industry knowledge, and know-how.

The Importance and Benefits of Having a Mentor

Having a Mentor(s) has proven to be a key component of a leader’s career success.

“The Human Resources department of Sun Microsystems compared the career progress of 1,000 employees over a 5-year period, and found that employees who received mentoring were ‘promoted FIVE times more often than people who didn’t have mentors.’ “

NOTE: In addition, some postulate that the wage gap between men and women leaders may be due, in part, to the fact that more men have mentors than women.

We have talked about what a Mentor can do for a leader previously in this series, and now we will outline a process to find a mentor who’s right for you at this point in your career.

How to Find a Mentor

1. Identify your Criteria for Selecting a Mentor

Ask yourself the following questions to help you define what kind of mentor you’re looking for and develop your criteria for selecting a mentor.

  • What are your goals for the mentoring relationship?
  • What characteristics would a mentor have that would support you in achieving your mentoring goals?
  • How could a mentor help you achieve your career goals?
  • What type of position should your mentor have (that would most support you in achieving your goals)?
  • Do you want a:
    • Technical (job or industry-specific) mentor (can be internal or external to your company)
    • Company politics mentor (needs to be internal to your company)
    • Career mentor (should be in your business function, but can be internal or external)
  • Does it matter if it’s a man or woman?
  • Do you want a mentor who is farther along in their career, or would a peer work for you?

The answers to these questions should help you develop a set of criteria your mentor should meet.

2. Determine Whether You Need an Internal or an External Mentor

Should You Choose a Mentor from Within or Outside Your Company?

If your mentor works for your company, they will most likely have more intimate knowledge of the technical, personnel, peer, political, and cultural issues you may face. They will be able to give you information that is specific to your situation. And, they will have some experience with you on which to draw from when giving you advice.

If your mentor works for another company, they will most likely be able to give you a broader perspective, new ideas that may not have been tried at your company, and will not be biased by how you are perceived at your company already or how they already perceive you.

In addition, an external mentor will not be biased by your company’s norms, which can support you in developing out-of-the-box solutions and approaches.

If possible, I recommend you find a mix of both internal and external mentors over the course of your career because you will derive different benefits from each type of mentor.

Each will have differing viewpoints, but both an internal and external mentor can:

  • Give you perspective on setting your career goals.
  • Brainstorm solutions to technical issues, problems with customer satisfaction, and personnel issues (although you may need to avoid talking about certain issues with an external mentor and even an internal mentor – this is one advantage of having an external Coach because they follow a strict code of ethics, including protecting your confidential information).

An Internal Mentor May Be Better Suited to Helping You:

  • Learn about your company culture
  • Seek information about your company’s history
  • Navigate company politics
  • Build key alliances
  • Learn how information flows through your organization and help you determine where and how to position yourself in the communication flow
  • Land your next targeted position within your company
  • To successfully navigate relationships with your boss and people at all levels in the organization
  • Review challenging interactions between departments
  • Gain perspective on the nuances of how to effectively communicate with different groups, departments, and teams within the organization
  • Understand how to get things done in your company
  • Maneuver coming challenges for your company
  • Learn about your company’s competitors

An External Mentor May Be Better Suited to Helping You:

  • Learn about your industry’s culture
  • Understand your industry’s business ethics
  • With answers to questions about your field, industry, or role
  • With guidance on how to obtain the skills, experience, and knowledge needed for your current and future role(s)
  • With advice on how to land your next targeted position in another company
  • With advice on how to build your career path in other companies and organizations

Based on the information in the two lists above and from any other sources of information on mentors you have access to, you will need to determine if you want to seek an internal or external mentor (or both).

3. Create a Target Mentor List

  • Start by brainstorming a list of possible mentors you already know.
  • Think about the direction you think you want your career to go in and identify people who have jobs in that area that you may not know.
  • Ask your boss and/or a colleague who they would recommend
  • Brainstorm where to find a mentor who you don’t already know, for example, in a:
    • Specific type of department within your company
    • Professional organizations
    • Career fair
    • Industry trade show
    • Company that your company is not in direct competition with

How to Identify Possible Internal Mentors

A Formal Mentoring Program. Some companies have formal mentoring programs you can enroll in or apply to. If such a program exists, ask Human Resources or the administrator of the organization about the opportunity to participate.

Informal Mentors. Even if your company has a formal program and you are turned down, you can still seek an informal mentor. A good bet is to look for a leader, or more experienced peer, who isn’t mentoring in the formal program. (Be sure to inquire whether there are any policies against this kind of arrangement).

How to Identify Possible External Mentors

Past bosses. Former bosses make great mentors. They understand your strengths and weaknesses and can give you advice that is tailored directly to you. It’s often easier to get them to agree to be your mentor and sometimes they end up offering a new position that’s even better than the one you moved to.

Establishing a mentoring relationship is a great way to maintain your relationship with a past boss (who is often a valuable resource in your network and can either re-hire you or steer you towards new positions that help you step up in your career).

Past Employers. Consider inquiring at a company you’ve worked for in the past.

Vendors or Customers. Companies where you have connections, such as vendors or customers, may be a good place to find a mentor.

Your Network. If you go through your contacts, you are likely to find several people who could be your mentor. An employee at a competitor may not be able to be your mentor, but a leader at a similar company, vendor, past vendor, or completely different company, may be a great candidate. You may want to run a potential mentor by your boss if there is any connection with your company or any need to be concerned about confidentiality or protection of trade secrets.

Past University Professors. In addition to their education, university professors often have significant experience in their field. They are also great at teaching and explaining, and they can provide an outside perspective. If they can’t serve as a mentor, they often have connections to other people who can.

Courses or classes you’re taking.  A great source of mentors or people who know a possible mentor for you is the people you attend courses or classes with.

Professional or Trade Associations. Mentorship programs are offered by companies and trade associations because they know the value that mentoring brings. Look into what your company and associations have to offer and see if any of the programs are a good fit for you.

4. Reach out to Targeted Mentors

There are many ways to gain access to your targeted mentor(s). Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Reach out directly
  • Ask your boss or a current colleague to introduce you
  • Ask a past or present boss or colleague to introduce you
  • Ask a vendor or customer to introduce you
  • Message targeted mentors through LinkedIn or via email
  • Look to see if a targeted mentor is connected to anyone you know on LinkedIn and ask for an introduction
  • Sign up for an educational event or professional organization event (in person or via Zoom) that they may attend and reach out to the person at the event (in person or via chat in a Zoom meeting)
  • Go to a Career Fair
  • Attend an industry trade show

5. Meet with Potential Mentor(s)

  • Start by scheduling a meeting with them in person or via phone or Zoom
  • Explain the purpose of the meeting: you are seeking a mentor
  • Share why you want a mentor
  • Ask if they are familiar with the concept of mentoring. If not:
    • Define what mentoring is
    • Provide an article on mentoring
    • Give an overview of the process (e.g., answer your questions, give you advice)
    • Let them know how much of their time it would take
    • Explain what you hope to get out of mentoring
    • Share the topics you would like to be covered in the mentoring relationship, e.g.:
      • Information on your industry, job, or career
      • How to move up in your career or how to switch careers
      • Possibilities for career growth
      • Education, skills, and knowledge needed to be promoted
      • Where or how to gain skills
      • How to be visible to upper management
      • Ideas for building your reputation
      • What to volunteer to do
      • How to navigate company politics
      • Leadership skills
      • Understanding company culture
      • How to build your brand
      • Introducing you to people in higher positions to help you build your network

6. Determine If You’re a Good Fit with a Potential Mentor

During the virtual or in-person meeting with a potential mentor, determine if the two of you will be a good match.

  • Assess their interest in being a mentor: are they enthusiastic or distracted?
  • Ask a couple of your questions or bring up a couple of topics you’d like to be mentored on and see if the potential mentor’s answers are helpful.
  • Ask how busy they are. Sometimes it’s better to pick someone who isn’t overly busy so that they have time to talk with you regularly.
  • Review the candidate against your mentor criteria list

Your Leadership Coach can help you compare your criteria list to the attributes of your potential mentor(s) to help you determine if you’ve found the right fit.

If they seem like a match, ask them if they would like to be your mentor.

Or

Tell them you want to give them time to think over whether they’d like to move forward with the mentoring relationship.

If they don’t seem like a good match, thank them for their time and let them know they don’t seem like a match for you at this point in your career.

7. Cement the Mentoring Relationship

As you begin working with your mentor:

  • In your first meeting, especially, and after each meeting, thank your mentor for mentoring you
  • Brainstorm some ground rules for the relationship with your mentor (e.g., where, or how will you meet, what will the frequency be, can you ask questions in between meetings, and if so, what is their preferred communication method?)
  • Ask if there’s anything you can do for them
  • Find ways to be of benefit or service to your mentor

Your mentor will be invaluable in helping you move more quickly through the next steps in your career, helping you be more successful, learning more about your industry, and navigating key business relationships.

If you have an internal mentor and you’re lucky, your mentor will become your champion, as well, and will take action to help you move forward within the company.

Be the Leader you’ve always wanted to be!

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With Our Consultations Coach: Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC (BIO)
With Our Consultations Coach:  Vicki Rich, MBA, ACC