Why having a Mentor is Essential to your Career
Mentoring is a relationship between someone who has knowledge, skill, and experience in a particular area (the mentor) — and someone who wants to learn and grow in that particular area (the mentee).
The word "mentor" comes from the Greek word for "advisor." A mentor can be anyone: a family member, personal friend, or colleague… you might not even know that person yet!
The benefits of having a mentor are tremendous and ongoing, because they provide advice, connections, and support when you need it the most. Mentors help with career planning, teach you how to network effectively or negotiate work conditions, and provide timely emotional support when business (and life, in general) gets difficult.
What is a mentor and why should you have one
A mentor provides guidance, support, and inspiration to help you reach your personal and professional goals. Without the consistent help of experienced, influential people — learning, growing, and accelerating your career can be very difficult.
A parent or relative may be a good choice for mentoring younger generations, because they’ve had similar experiences in their lives. You can look for a mentor that’s walked the path you are on or with vast amounts of experience in your current or desired role in your industry.
Most mentors come from one’s own personal professional network, like colleagues or employees from other aligned companies. You might find a mentor through organizations and communities parallel or related to your industry. Not all organizations support mentoring across the industry, and not all people are open to the commitment of being a mentor; however, you can still use their resources to get more information about your specific industry.
What are the benefits of having a mentor
The benefits of having a mentor are truly personalized to what your needs are, though some of the insight you will gain could include something like this:
Your mentor has likely walked the path you are walking right now. He or she should be experienced, seasoned in their field, and familiar with the many different challenges that may come your way. They can answer questions on how they deal with certain situations and enter into different conversations, so you can be prepared ahead of time. Your mentor will also share meaningful connections with influential people in their circle, which is invaluable to your career.
Mentors can be a great source of emotional support as well. Having someone available to relate to in the moment can make you feel less alone and give you personalized encouragement when needed — even if it's with something that doesn't have anything to do with work.
Honestly, the benefits of having a mentor are endless, and sometimes the perfect mentor is right in front of you.
Tips for finding your perfect mentor
Finding a mentor is easier than you may think, and these tips should make it feel do-able!
1 — First, consider the type of person who you want to be a mentor — not the specific person, but about the person, their characteristics, traits, values, and how they spend their time. Your mentor should be someone you can proudly emulate, with a lifestyle you can model after. Write down a list of what's important to you.
As you begin to discover people who might be a good fit, refer to the list and see how many boxes they check. Your mentor doesn't need to be just like you! Often, the best mentors are those that are different from us, because they see things differently and challenge us to grow.
2 — Next, make a list of possible people who could be your ideal mentor. Look around, explore the network of your family, friends, colleagues, and others in your business and industry.
Remember, mentoring is fundamentally about you, so it's ok to list people that may work for the (perceived) “competition,” if their knowledge and expertise could challenge you to grow. Mentoring is about accelerating your career, reaching for your ultimate goals, and building your life — it's not about your current set of circumstances.
3 — Once you have an understanding of the type of person you are looking for — now, it's time to start researching your potential mentors in more detail.
Start with a Google search and see what comes up, then go check out their LinkedIn profile and other social media platforms. What you’re looking for is information to confirm that they are the right person, sharing content you admire that’s relevant to you, and in a voice you respect.
If you see people who have followed mentoring programs, they may provide some helpful information on a specific program or even how to simply set up a mentoring relationship.
4 — Next, without any further ado, start reaching out to the people on your list! But don't go straight to the ask… Let them know you're doing some research and looking for a mentor, and you'd like to chat with them about their experience.
However, you might want to ask them to chat in a more subtle way, without mentioning mentoring — that way, you can have your initial, get-to-know-you meetings with several mentor prospects, without feeling obligated to get back to each person quickly or “let them down easy” when you don’t choose them as your mentor. To network for a mentor more subtly, simply tell each person that you want to be more intentional to network within your field, and you admire their position in the industry! The compliment will resonate with them, and your invitation will be well-received.
Invite them for coffee or a virtual face-to-face meeting with the purpose of simply getting to know them more personally. If you’re scheduling a video chat, you might consider sending them a $5 giftcard to buy themselves coffee before your call to demonstrate your appreciation for their time (many coffee shops offer online gift cards you can send via email!).
Once you've met with a few people, it will likely become clear who the right mentor is for you — who you feel the most comfortable with, who has the career path you’re most excited about following after, and which person you would enjoy a relationship with and be challenged by.
5 — The final step is to actually do the asking: “Will you be my mentor?”
Once you know who you want your mentor to be, you simply ask them. You want to be intentional to explain why you’d like them to be your mentor and what you’re hoping to gain from them.
If they agree to be your mentor, you can then begin a more in-depth conversation about what your relationship will look like. For example, you might discuss how often you’d like to meet in person, “what’s on the table” conversation-wise, how often you might like to chat, what text communication they’re comfortable with, and other house-keeping items that you might have in mind to set you guys up for a great, working relationship.
Hopefully now, you understand what a mentor is, why you need one, and how to find the right mentor for you. Remember, you don't have to know the person yet — people love to help people, and I’m willing to bet you'll be amazed at the response you get!
I was fortunate to have an amazing mentor in my career who passed away in 2018. I could write multiple columns about my friend, former boss, and amazing mentor, Bob Kimball… But in the meantime, if you'd like to hear firsthand the impact he had on my life and career, you can watch my video tribute to him that I recorded on the day I learned of his passing: Success Soundbites - Be a Mentor