21 Aug How to find and use a Career Mentor
One of my big tips for anyone looking to get a bit of an edge in their career planning is to get a Professional Mentor. The number 1 question I get is:
How do you find a Mentor?
Heres a short post on my own tips and tricks for finding a mentor.
What is a mentor?
Well, firstly, theres a good chance that you already have a mentor but you don’t call it that. Do you have a person who you know in a work capacity that gives you work advice? Someone who is in your industry but more experienced? Maybe someone not in your industry but keen to help you discover your potential? Maybe an old boss? Or Supervisor? Or perhaps a colleague who has moved on/up in their own career? This is essentially a mentor.
Whats the difference between a Mentor and a Coach?
Mentors are different to Coaches. Coaches are usually professionally hired/commissioned to help you identify and reach a specific goal, theres a more detailed post HERE. A Mentor is someone who meets you in a more personal capacity and helps you work on the long-term/bigger picture plan for your career. Recently a number of Coaches have started offering Professional Mentoring services. Often in this case the mentor will provide advice and recommendations. In general a Coach does not give advice, just works through the issue.
Who can be a mentor?
To be honest there are lots of different ways people can be a mentor. Do you have an old aunt who encourages you to take a bigger perspective on life when you’re stressing about work? Or a trainer who encouraged you to pursue further development opportunities? Someone in a different department you worked on a project with who encouraged you to consider a transfer? Or the sibling of a friend of yours who works in your industry? Maybe a local entrepreneur you met at a networking event? The things with a mentor is, they shouldn’t really be in your inner circle of friends or your direct manager. And most often you only talk about work and career planning for the mentee.
Conversely, in the case of mentors, are you someone who has noticed someone in your organisation with great potential? Have you met someone at a local networking event you’d like to meet again. Do you have some spare time to meet people and offer some constructive advice about your own career journey? Have you started a business and just learned loads that you happy to pass on?
Who can be a mentee?
Anyone who wants to get ahead in their career and is interested and engaged enough to make the effort to establish the relationship. I have seen people having mentor relationships for everything from sporting events, to starting a business, to getting a promotion.
What do you talk about?
You’ll usually figure out the tone of the relationship very quick. In my experience the people good enough to be mentors are super busy so they usually like to get to the chase. Usually theres a particular issue the mentee wants to discuss. Maybe its dealing with a difficult manager? Trying to plan their next training and development steps? Wondering about promotion/leaving? Struggling with the isolation of starting a new business? It can be anything really. Its rare that your first meeting will count as a mentor/mentee relationship. Perhaps its a casual coffee but you learn something new, implement it and then reference it when next you meet. This is when the relationship starts to evolve.
Whats in it for the mentor?
Well its usually not money. Lots of people remember someone giving them a leg up at some point in their career and quite often they feel a sense of ‘returning the favour’ by working with a mentee. It is rewarding to see someone get ahead and super rewarding to know you’ve been a part of that. In many cases people relate to people who remind them of themselves. So perhaps a woman in a traditionally male career, or a person from a particular social background, or with similar life challenges. It can be a really nice opportunity to reflect and relate.
And its nice to be nice.
I’m sold! How can I get one?
Well this is where it gets a bit awkward. In my own experience, mentoring relationships evolve, you can’t just decide they’re going to happen. In many cases its a bit like dating. You can’t just decide you’re going out, you have to have a few dates first.
The other tricky thing is that the relationship has to be lead by the mentee. It would be super weird if some person just emailed you saying “Hey, I’m pretty awesome and I know you think so too, so lets mentor!”. That just couldn’t happen. It needs to be the mentee who identifies something they admire about the possible mentor and make that first introduction.
For either side, like dating, the oldies are the goodies. Get that email/social media handle/LinkedIn profile and hit them with your best:
Would you be free to go for coffee sometime?
At this point if I’m approaching someone, I usually mention that I’m happy in my job. People in positions of authority are often wary of meeting cold-callers in case they’re trying to get recruited. In time your mentor could end up hiring you, but never approach them with that in mind.
Secondly, offer to meet them at a time and place that suits them, and offer to pay for cake. Its simple but important. Theres nothing annoys me more than when people email me for coffee and then start giving me lists of dates and times that suit them. I just don’t feel like they value my time then.
Thirdly, do tell them how you came across them and what you liked. Busy people like knowing what they’re doing and when they’re doing it, so knowing someone would like to talk about their career path can help them prioritise their time appropriately.
Having a mentor was easily one of the most influencing factors on my career to date and I would highly recommend taking some time to establish a relationship with someone.