Whether you’re fresh out of college, a C-suite executive or you lie somewhere in-between, there will be times in your professional life where you could benefit from having a mentor. This person may have more or different career or life experiences than you, and they can show you the ropes, act as a sounding board, or help you work through new or unexpected personal or professional challenges.
Defined as the act or process of helping and giving advice, or acting as a coach or guide, mentoring is “a powerful career development tool that can help advance one’s professional goals and aspiration,” the ASU career website notes. When you need professional guidance, whether it’s for school, starting in a new role, or even if you’re a CEO, finding someone you can look to for advice can be a career boon. In fact, numerous studies have shown that these types of relationships have positive effects on confidence, mental health, and even the likelihood of getting a promotion.
A mentor-mentee relationship is like any other commitment: it requires work from both partners to experience the fruits of your labor. But the effort is worth it, both personally and professionally. According to Forbes, both mentors and mentees were approximately 20% more likely to get a raise, and those who received mentoring were five times more likely to get a raise than those who didn’t participate in a mentoring program.
Both mentors and mentees have reported increased self-confidence and self-awareness, professional development, enhanced listening, communication and soft skills, and higher job satisfaction.
To find the right mentor, NPR recommends laying out your short- and long-term goals and identifying who you look up to professionally, both inside and outside of the organization. Identify those who could be a good fit, and, if it’s not feasible to ask them, think of people who are in similar positions as the person you look up to.
Don’t forget the value of your network. By looking within your network, you can identify someone who knows you and your abilities and understands how to best help you develop.
Ensure you have a good fit before you approach a possible mentor. When you do, show them you put thought behind what you would like in a professional mentor. Be prepared to answer questions about what you’d like from the relationship, how you want to develop, and even how often you wish to meet. Establish boundaries and set a plan for what you both expect to achieve from the mentorship. Common goals may include:
Skill development: List specific skills you’d like to work on, whether it’s learning a new program, public speaking, solving problems, or leadership.
Career planning: Where are you, and where do you want to be in the future?
Networking: Grow and strengthen your network, but be sure to give as much as you take in networking relationships.
Understanding workplace culture: Work to learn and understand the culture of your company or organization so you can contribute to the overall environment.
While developing your goals and outlining what you’d like from the relationship, you may realize that several people could help fulfill one or more goals. Consider establishing a “board of mentors,” as “no one mentor can help you achieve all of your goals,” an NPR article stated. “Maybe one mentor can help you consider a path to leadership because they are a supervisor. Maybe another can help with technical skills specific to making a job change. Another mentor may be aware of your skill set and could turn into a sponsor down the line. There is no right or wrong number of mentors as you progress through your professional career.”
When it comes time to establish your mentorship, how you make the ask will vary based on whether or not you know the person. If you don’t know your potential mentor personally, it helps to reach out to people in your network and ask them to make an introduction. Explain that they’re a mutual connection and why you think their colleague or connection would be the perfect mentor for you and why.
Whether you know the person or not, you should outline your background, what you’re looking for, and why you selected them. If you admire their work in your shared field of work or hope to be in a similar position someday, tell them. Request an informal meeting (15 to 20 minutes, don’t take up too much of their time!) to discuss your interests, whether you align, and what a mentorship might look like.
Based on your goals and how long they will take to achieve, set a target end date for your mentorship. Some common arrangements are quarterly for a year or monthly for four to six months, with ongoing but more spaced-out informal meetings beyond that time.
Those being mentored are also responsible for the success of the relationship. Below are characteristics that can help make you a successful mentee.
You put in the work
You’re going to get out of your mentorship what you put into it. Putting in the work shows your mentor you genuinely value your commitments, including the ones you've made to them. If your mentor effectively does their job, you will be held accountable while working toward established goals and objectives.
You accept feedback with grace.
Being willing to accept feedback—positive and negative—is key to growth. You have chosen someone you trust to be your mentor; now, you must be ready to have an open mind to accept their feedback. Remember why you looked to them for guidance in the first place.
You take risks.
It can be challenging to step outside of your comfort zone, but with the support and encouragement of your mentor, there’s no better time. Don’t be afraid to take risks and show off new skills. If your mentor has provided you with a new opportunity, be confident and go for it.
You value your mentor and the shared opportunities.
It is important to respect your mentor’s time, advice, and expertise. Be sure to come to meetings prepared, communicate openly and honestly, and show gratitude for new opportunities and connections.
Mentors are valuable throughout your career. They can help you avoid mistakes, build relationships, attain career goals, change directions, and be a source of inspiration and encouragement. And when you’re in the position to serve as a mentor, you can draw from your experiences during your own professional development.
Impact Opportunity would like to thank Windy Souders and Karen Butterfield of KE Butterfield, LLC., a communications firm, for their work in writing this article.