How to Find a Mentor

By Joy Heath Rush posted 05-11-2017 13:54


No two ways about it: Building a career without a mentor is just plain hard. 

But finding a mentor can be just as hard…. Or at least it can feel that way.

 Fortunately, we have provided some tips below that can help.

General Guidelines

Guideline 1:  Before considering becoming involved with a mentoring program, you need to have a good sense of what you want to gain from the experience.  If your goal is to be more effective in your current position, be upfront about that.  We often earn opportunities for future advancement by giving all we have today.  Similarly, if you want to advance to a position with more responsibility or you want to consider a change in direction (for example, tech to management), be honest about that as well. 

Guideline 2:  A mentor is not necessarily a sponsor (that’s a different article!) nor a shoulder to cry on, although a mentor can be both.  Know what you need before you engage. The one hallmark of a mentoring relationship is that it is ongoing – for a month, a year, or even a lifetime.  The key is that there is a commitment.

Guideline 3:  You have to ask.  Ask someone to be your mentor.  Ask to be included in a program.  Just ask.

Formal Mentoring Program

Lucky you!  You have access to a formal mentoring program.  But you may not recognize it when you see it or you may not be making the best use of it.  How can you make a formal mentoring program meet your needs?

First, formal mentoring does not have to be through your employer.  Formal mentoring programs may be available through peer networking organizations (I’ll bet you can think of at least one ….), community services groups (e.g., scouting), and even personal development groups (e.g., Toastmasters).   Even though any mentor you find through such an external mentoring program will not have firsthand knowledge of your work situation, that mentor will be able to help you with a variety of leadership matters that will pertain to work.

Second, don’t assume that the mentoring program at your employer doesn’t apply to you.  I have heard from many colleagues that their law firms sponsor mentoring for lawyers but not for staff.  Have you asked about being included in the lawyer mentoring program?  Remember, if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Finally, please don’t wait to be tapped on the shoulder.  As with many other life changes that really stick, mentoring is something you have to want.

No Formal Mentoring Program

Not to worry!  Many authors on the mentoring topic will tell you that the best mentoring relationships are informal ones.  So what are the ground rules?

First, seek out someone you respect, particularly if that person leads by example or exhibits traits you would like to emulate or skills you would want to hone.

Second, your mentor does not have to be a “superior,” i.e., someone above you in your organization.  The key criterion is the first one above.

Third, the person does not even need to be in your department.  Sometimes, perspective is helpful.

Finally, the mentor does not even need to be in your organization.  Again, a fresh perspective can be valuable.

There is a Mentoring Program, But It’s Not Your Cup of Tea

Some formal mentoring programs are just … well … too formal.  Forms, reports, even regularly scheduled meetings can make mentoring feel like just more work on your plate.

The good news is that just because your organization has a formal mentoring program doesn’t mean you can’t seek an informal mentoring relationship.  It’s not against the rules.

Final Words – If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again

Please don’t be discouraged by a failed mentoring outreach, a poor mentoring experience, or even a rough initial meeting.  Sometimes there is a poor match, bad circumstances or lack of commitment to the relationship by one or both parties.  Yes, dating/marriage analogies are inevitable – and they work!

Mentoring relationships – either as a mentee or a mentor – are among the most valuable and fulfilling professional interactions you can have.  If you have the opportunity to find a mentor, grab it!