We’ve all heard advice and stories about the benefits of finding a mentor. According to Success magazine, about 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies have initiated some sort of formal program for mentoring. But while 86 percent of the more than 2,200 CFOs surveyed by Accountemps said having a mentor is somewhat or very important for career development, only 26 percent of professionals said they actually have a mentor. What’s the reason for the gulf between these statistics?
The most likely reason is that people aren’t sure about how to find a mentor and start a relationship. It is difficult to ask for what you want in this situation: “Hey, I’m looking for someone to take time from their busy schedule and take a deep interest in me and my professional success by guiding me with advice, act as a sounding board, and help me get jobs. Interested?”
Go With What You Know
This sets up my first piece of advice: Don’t ask a stranger. Mentoring is an involved task that takes time and care. Someone who knows nothing about you isn’t going to enter into such a relationship. Would you?
Take a Look in the Mirror
Secondly, you have to be a good mentee. Be someone who would be attractive to a potential mentor: hard-working, inquisitive, open to suggestion. No one is going to want to help you if they think it’s wasted time. Know what your desired career path is so your mentor knows what sort of help you need. You don’t want to frustrate them by continually being vague about what you want or flip-flopping.
Think Before You Act
Find someone whose personality is suited to it. Just like great players don’t usually make good coaches, superstars at work aren’t always the best teachers. You need somebody who is observant, can recognize a teachable moment, is a good communicator/translator, and is patient because you’re going to be bending their ear a lot.
Be open minded in your search. There are good mentors everywhere. So yours doesn’t need to be just like you or even in the same field. It may even be better to have someone like this because an outside perspective can be very valuable. In fact, don’t even be afraid of having more than one mentor. Some people have a different mentor for different aspects of their careers.
They Might Be Right Under Your Nose
A lot of times you don’t need to go looking for one because you already know the right person. You may already have the beginnings of the relationship. Is there someone in your office whose opinion you respect, like talking to, and has given good advice in the past? These things can happen gradually on their own and without ever specifically referring to the person as a mentor.
Give as Good as You Get
Like any relationship it works best if it’s a two-way street. Help them out in any way that you can. If they’re your supervisor, work your ass off for them. If not, you can still do things like refer a job candidate to them when they need it or, if they ask your opinion on a candidate you know, give them the unvarnished truth so they can make a good decision.
A mentor’s impact can be felt in ways you might not think of initially. They can help guide you to a new aspect of your field because, based on their experience and their being a detached observer, they might be able to see that you’re better suited for it and would like it better. They can even give you tips on how to dress more professionally or how to order in a restaurant so you know how to properly entertain clients. And, if you find a good one, they can end up being a lifetime asset.