Working with a career mentor is an important investment in your future. No matter your professional goals, a great mentor can provide feedback, advice and insight that only comes from experience.
While the search for the ideal candidate may seem overwhelming, here are six ways to find the right mentor for you.
1. Consider Current Connections
A co-worker in a senior role, one you currently work with or have worked with in the past, can make an excellent mentor because his or her advice and experience will be specific to your industry, which is critical to your career success: “Perhaps the most important step in pursuing a dream job is to find someone who already works in that field who can offer guidance and advice as you proceed,” according to Allison Doyle.
If you already have a rapport with someone, start there. But, don’t ask right away.
Instead, sit down for lunch or coffee to explain your career goals, get a feel for their career values, and determine if it would be a good match. Just because you get along, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to mentor you.
Face-to-face networking is one of the best ways to find like-minded professionals and potential mentors.
Sign up for events where you’ll be able to connect with professionals from your field or an industry you’d like to break into. Before signing up, research to see who will be in attendance (panelists and guests) to make sure there’s value for you.
If you meet with someone that could be a good fit, don’t ask for them to mentor you right then and there.
Instead start the relationship by offering something first: “When first meeting someone you think could be helpful, offer your services first. Ask: What do you need help with right now? What do you see yourself needing the most support with in the future?” suggests Ted Rollins, long-time entrepreneur.
He continues, “Being authentic with connections and always trying to provide greater value makes them more likely to do the same for you. This sets the foundation for a strong network that is instrumental for everyone involved.”
3. Go Online
If you’re uncomfortable at networking events or you simply haven’t found the right person, there are several online tools you can use in your search. Start with LinkedIn, where you likely already have an account—along with 500 million other users.
Chris Spurvey, a Linkedin Influencer, recommends scanning Linkedin Pulse to find leaders in your niche: “Browse LinkedIn Pulse channels to see who is writing about the areas for which you want mentorship. Most mentors are leaders. Most leaders are readers, and many readers are also writers.”
Spurvey suggests following these people before sending a connection request. Comment on their posts and interact with their circles. Once you’ve done this and feel comfortable, you can connect with the person and see if they’re willing to have a one-on-one meeting.
4. Ask Your Boss
This doesn’t mean ask your boss to mentor you. Instead, let your boss or manager know you want to work with someone who can help you learn, grow, and improve and see if he or she can recommend a mentor.
Your boss will be happy you took the initiative and he or she can connect you with business professionals who may be of help. Want your boss to mentor you? Read this first: Your Boss? Your Mentor? Why You Should Know the Difference.
5. Check With Your School
Regardless of how long it’s been since graduating, you can always tap into useful alumni and career resources from your University. Check online or contact your school’s career center. Most school host alumni networking events, seminars and more.
Many even have mentorship programs and alumni networks where you can connect with other alumnus who are working in your industry. The best part: as a fellow alumni, you already have a way to break the ice when reaching out to potential mentors.
6. Small Business Development Centers
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are independent organizations that provide resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. “There are more than 1,100 SBDCs nationwide offering free individual counseling as well as low-cost business workshops,” according to Entrepreneur. “Their services include business counseling, training and technical assistance.”
If your goals include starting your own business or being a CEO, find out about any SBDCs in your area.
What to Look for in a Mentor
Now that you know where you can find a mentor, make sure you know what to look for in potential candidates. Before you start looking for someone to work with, make sure you’re clear about your goals and what you hope to gain from this relationship. What are your expectations from your mentor?
Knowing what you want is an important step for narrowing down candidates—if someone’s experience or views don’t align with your path and goals, you know you can look elsewhere. You should also clarify what you’re willing to do; a mentor can only help if you can take direction and put their advice into action.
Your mentor will be a valuable source of wisdom and experience, and finding the right person can take some time.
Use these ideas to start your search and don’t settle for someone who doesn’t feel like the right fit. Be clear about your goals and you’ll find the person who can help you get where you want to go.