We are all driven by the desire to succeed in our chosen professions. And having a mentor who has been-there-done-that is a great way to accelerate your growth and avoid common mistakes. The right mentor is someone who helps us navigate our professional path successfully with his or her knowledge, experience and expertise. But the real question here is how to find a mentor, particularly one who is as invested in our growth as we are.
Finding a mentor is not as difficult as it may sound. But you may still end up making mistakes and not finding one – or worse, find the wrong one! Here are, therefore, a few things to keep in mind when looking for a mentor.
1. Know your goals: Before you find a mentor, you must know what you need the mentor for. If you do not have at least some broad goals in place, you won’t know how you need to be mentored and what you want to achieve. Therefore, get a good understanding of your short and long-term goals: What do you want to achieve? By when? Have SMART goals and prioritise them. Create an actionable plan skeleton that you can discuss with your mentor.
2. Identify the people you would like as mentors: Not everyone can be a good mentor and not every good mentor may be the right fit for you. Finding the right mentor who can help you achieve your objective is an important task. Hence, first look at the people in your network. Whom do you look up to? Whom would you like to emulate? Who is your role model? Make a list of such people to choose your mentor from. Your mentor does not even have to be your senior; even a peer or same-level colleague may be able to mentor you in areas that he or she has greater experience in.
3. Reach out to them: Reaching out and asking the person to be your mentor is the next step. This must be done tactfully. Request a meeting over a cup of coffee and bring up your goals and aspirations. When you find the timing to be right, you can make the suggestion of being mentored by them. Let them know what you like about their work and why you want them to mentor you. If they decline, accept gracefully and enjoy the coffee. But if they agree, you could be on your way to professional growth!
4. Be invested in the relationship: As the mentee, you also have a responsibility to keep the mentorship going. Do not depend on the mentor to follow up with you. Develop the relationship and keep them updated on your progress. Demonstrate to them that their time is well spent with you. Between meetings, send emails or texts letting them know how their mentoring is proving valuable to you.
5. Meet consistently: It is okay to request regular meetings with your mentor. However, make sure that every meeting has a clear agenda which is sent to the mentor in advance. Keep the status of the project they are mentoring you on, ready before the meeting. Also, keep your queries handy so that you make the best use of the available time.
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6. Seek regular feedback: You are a prime candidate for being mentored if you are open to feedback – especially the negative kind. If you have the right mentor, you may occasionally get feedback that is uncomfortable but which will steer you in the right direction by getting you out of your comfort zone. Defer to the experience of the mentor and listen to the feedback openly, rather than defending your position. Let the mentor see that their feedback is not just appreciated but also worked upon.
7. Offer to help: The mentor-mentee equation is a two-way relationship. Their being your mentor does not mean you cannot offer help to them in something they need help with. As you develop the relationship, you may get to know of other projects your mentor may be working on, which you can offer to help them with.
8. Stay focused on professional goals: If your mentor is understanding and compassionate, and if you build a good rapport with them, it may be natural to want to talk to them about your personal problems too. But until that happens, personal topics are best avoided. Stay focused on your professional goals and do not use the mentor as your agony aunt.
9. Decide an end date: Make sure that there is an end date to the mentorship and your mentor does not feel that they have to mentor you forever. If the period of mentorship is decided, stick to it. You could have informal meetings after the mentorship is over too, but let the expectation to be mentored be for a finite period of time, say six months.
10. Be grateful: Let them know that you are grateful for the time they spend with you. Thank them after every meeting for their time and input. Let them know that their assistance is valued.
11. Consider working with more than just one mentor: You may have different goals and one mentor may not be the answer to all your problems. You may need different mentors to help you through different goals. It is perfectly fine to have more than one mentor to help you achieve your varied professional goals. Keep your mentors updated about your progress and make them feel appreciated for their help.
Finding a mentor is not difficult. The difficult part is finding the right mentor and making sure that both you and the mentor stay committed to the process. The stakes of not getting a mentor or getting the wrong mentor are high and hence the process to find the right workplace mentor should be followed with diligence and care.