Jonathan Gorham | August 2018 You hear it all the time from career gurus: “Find a great mentor.”
But that’s easier said than done. And even if you do find one, how do you know for sure they can help you grow your career? You certainly don’t want to find an unsuitable mentor, as this will have the opposite effect — damaging your career instead of supporting your success.
In this guide, I offer a step-by-step method for finding, approaching, and winning over a great mentor who can accelerate your career journey.
Step 1: Self-Reflection and Sourcing a Mentor
To find a great mentor who will put you on an accelerated path to success, you’ll first need to understand where you are right now and where you want to go from here. Try the following exercises to help you with this:
- List your top five strengths and weaknesses. For the best results, be honest with yourself. Don’t shy away from your worst qualities — write them down!
- Think about where you want to be 3-5 years from now. Maybe you want to lead your team, or run a department, or reach a different kind of goal.
- Write about who you are five years from now. What are your qualities? Your interests? What do others say about you? Picture it as though it is all happening now.
- Finally, list 5-10 people who closely match the qualities of your five-years-from-now self. These can be people you know personally, or influencers in your industry, or people you follow on social media — anyone, really. Write down their names.
With this, you’ve just completed the most crucial step in finding a mentor — but the journey’s not over yet.
Step 2: The Approach
You’ll need to put in some legwork before approaching someone to outright ask if they will be your mentor. A cold approach will likely fail, and you’ll just end up putting the person in an awkward situation. Even if they do agree to mentor you, they won’t be committed to helping you grow.
Instead of diving right in, start forming strong relationships with your potential mentors. There are plenty of ways to do this. Here are a few ideas:
- Follow them on social media. Regularly engage with their posts and interact with them positively to get on their radar.
- Be active on the same social media channels they use. Write thoughtful and engaging posts on topics in which you are both interested, and make sure your social profiles broadcast your skills and talents.
- Attend the public meetings and events they are attending. When the appropriate opportunity arises, introduce yourself.
- Offer to help them with projects or introduce them to potential clients.
- Create a personal website and publish insightful content related to your shared interests. Ask for their opinion on your content. Make sure you have a great “About Me” page on your site, as it can act as a digital resume of sorts.
- Invite them to a presentation you’re giving — but only if you know the topic is of interest to them.
Repeat these steps on a consistent basis until you’ve established stable relationships with your potential mentors. The goal here is to get on their radars and clearly demonstrate to them your potential.
Step 3: The Pitch
So, you have reached the point where you feel comfortable contacting your potential mentor for advice. Now, you’re ready to make the pitch.
Don’t write a long-winded email or make a big deal out of this. Just let them know you’re looking for someone to hold you accountable for achieving your career goals and quickly explain why you’d like them to be that person. Perhaps it’s because you value their experience or you admire their career success.
If they agree to mentor you, congratulations! However, there is the possibility that they say no — and that’s okay. Don’t let it get you down. Go out and pitch your next potential mentor until you find someone who’s excited to work with you.
Step 4: Work With Your Mentor on a Career Plan
Now that you’ve found your mentor, the hard stuff is out of the way. It’s time to leverage your mentor’s knowledge to help accelerate your career.
If you followed step two correctly, your mentor will already have an excellent understanding of your career aspirations. Here’s how you and your mentor can work together on a career plan:
- Write out a draft of your career plan before contacting your mentor. This saves a lot of time and will make it easier for your mentor to help you.
- Let your mentor know who and where you want to be in the next 3-5 years. Go ahead and share what you wrote about your five-years-from-now self in step one.
- Ask for feedback on your career plan. Ask your mentor if they think your career plan will get you where you want to be in five years. You might be surprised by their response.
Once you’ve received feedback and refined your career plan accordingly, it’s time to start executing. If you get stuck along the way, reach out to your mentor for guidance and make the necessary adjustments as you go.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be completely honest and transparent with your mentor for this to work. Your mentor can only give you relevant, actionable feedback if they understand everything about your career and your goals.
Step 5: Determine Whether You’ve Found the Right Mentor
As I mentioned earlier, not everyone is cut out to be your mentor. Connecting with the wrong mentor can have a negative impact on your career, so it’s important to be sure you’ve found the right person.
Here are some traits to look out for:
- When giving feedback, a great mentor won’t be afraid to rip the band-aid off or teach you something you never knew about yourself. Be open to what they have to say.
- They challenge you. If it feels like there is some friction between yourself and your mentor sometimes, that’s actually a good thing. A great mentor is not your best friend. They are there to help you grow, and you should expect to hear some uncomfortable things. That is how you grow.
- You might not talk often, but when you do, the quality of your discussions is high. For that to happen, it’s your responsibility to be honest and transparent with your mentor.
- A mentor should make you feel inspired and motivated. It’s normal for everyone to experience career setbacks. When you do, your mentor should help steer you back on course.
- They’re good listeners and work to understand the challenges you face.
- They won’t spell out answers for you. They understand that for you to grow, you’ll have to discover new things and make decisions for yourself. Instead of telling you exactly what to do, a great mentor will share their experiences and perspectives with you.
Remember to keep putting effort into your relationship. Stay interested in your mentor. Follow and support their professional endeavors just as you’d want them to do for you.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to give your mentor feedback. Show gratitude and be appreciative for their time and insights.
If you follow these steps, you’ll find a great mentor and reap the incredible career benefits of having them in your corner