There are so many considerations in forging your career path, like navigating the best job offer and determining which company is a good fit at the right time.
While your career path is your own, you don’t have to go it alone. A career mentor can help identify potential obstacles, as well as the opportunities that will help you reach your goals.
In the movies, mentors always seem to show up at just the right moment to help out the hero in question.
In real life, it’s not so easy.
So how can you go about finding a mentor? And how can you make the most of the relationship with them? In this article, I’ll cover all that, including tips on how to set smart mentorship goals.
Mentorship meaning: A quick definition
A mentor is an experienced person who provides guidance, insights, and advice to someone who is still learning and growing in any particular area. The word “mentorship” refers to the process of imparting this knowledge.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes, and they can provide guidance in any number of ways. Some mentors may be older family members or friends who take a younger person under their wing to teach them anything from social skills to street smarts.
Teachers and professors often act as mentors for their students, and you’ll find mentors in religious leaders, athletic coaches, mental health professionals, volunteer workers, and so on.
In this article, I’ll be focusing mostly on career mentorship. A career mentor is an experienced professional who gives advice, offers perspective, acts as a sounding board, and helps you navigate your career path.
If you’re wanting to learn and grow in a specific area, a career mentor can have a positive impact on your career and life. According to a 2019 study done by Olivet Nazarene University, approximately 76% of people surveyed believe that a mentor is an incredibly helpful resource for improving one’s career.
How to find a career mentor who meets your needs
Finding a mentor can take some time, but once you know what to look for, your hunt will get a lot easier. Here are some tips on how you can find the right career mentor for you:
Set clear goals for mentorship
Before you can start looking for a mentor, you have to have a clear picture of what you want out of your career. To set strong mentorship goals, write the answers to these questions:
- What skills do I really want to learn?
- Where do I see my career going in 5 years?
- Who are some people I admire already?
- Why do I admire them?
- What are the biggest obstacles standing in my way?
- What do I wish I understood better?
When you’re done, take a look at your list and voila—you have clear-cut mentoring goals that will make it much easier to find a mentor who can coach you in the specific areas where you want to grow.
Pro tip: When you do find a mentor, share your answers with them.
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Connect with your role models
Now that you know what your goals are, it’s time to start looking for people who can teach you the specific skills you need to get ahead. The easiest way to do this is to look for people who are already doing exactly what you want to do.
You can start by thinking of people you already know. Do you have a family member, a friend, a colleague, or someone else who has a successful career path that you admire? If so, reach out to them and start building a relationship (more on that next).
If not, social media may be the answer. You can use LinkedIn or Twitter (or a different platform, if it’s more relevant to your work) to search for professionals in the field you want to work in. Follow them on social media and engage with them by leaving thoughtful comments and resharing their content. Eventually they may begin interacting with you, or you’ll find that their large audience of followers contains individuals who would make a great career mentor.
Focus on building a relationship with potential mentors
When you think you’ve found someone who could be a good mentor, you don’t want to come out of the gate demanding they take you under their wing. Instead, you want to nurture an honest relationship with them, and demonstrate your dedication and respect for their knowledge.
Your first message to the person you have in mind should include a brief description of who you are and what you’re trying to learn. But beyond that, focus on how their work or insights have helped you, showing them how much you value them. This isn’t about sucking up to the mentor, but rather showing them that you’re already taking their advice and are hungry for more.
As you’re getting to know them, ask yourself: Do you have complementary personalities? Do you communicate well with each other? Does your mentor understand you and where you want to go in life? The answers to these questions will be vital when choosing the right mentor for you.
What are the benefits of career mentorship?
If you’ve never had a mentor before, it can be hard to understand all of the wonderful things that can happen when you have a good coach in your corner. Here are a few of the best benefits of professional mentoring.
You get a roadmap for success
One of the main arguments for having a mentor in the first place is to follow a path that’s already been tested. It’s not that you don’t want to forge your own path; you just know that you can do better with another perspective—someone who has been there. The chance to learn from another’s choices, what those choices entail, and the outcomes is invaluable.
When you have a career mentor, you can learn from their experiences, so you know what to expect and can navigate your own choices with confidence. For example, if your career mentor has experience climbing the ladder at their organization, they can help you determine which job opportunities can help you achieve your goals faster by giving you insight they’ve gained on their own career journey.
They will help you prepare for mistakes and hurdles
Your mentor can give you an idea of what you’re up against, such as competition in your industry or a particularly hard skill to master.
In addition, your mentor can help you make better decisions by explaining the mistakes they’ve made and how they might have done things differently. This information can be essential to your own decisions, as well as handling situations more effectively. Everyone will make their fair share of mistakes, but your mentor can help navigate them with sound advice.
Mentors remind you who you are and where you’re going
Sometimes we can get lost on our own path, forgetting what our goals are when things get tough or we experience self-doubt. That’s where a mentor comes in to remind you of your skills, your successes, and your goals. Your mentor can be a cheerleader who motivates you to keep striving for your career goals and boosts your confidence. Plus, your mentor can help you keep your goals as realistic as possible, so that you don’t get too ahead of yourself too fast.
Having this cheerleader and professional sounding board can also improve your relationship with your current (and likely) future jobs. The study mentioned above also shows that people with mentors felt happier at their current jobs than those who didn’t have mentors. CNBC and SurveyMonkey also surveyed 8,000 full- and part-time workers and discovered that 9 out of 10 people surveyed felt more satisfied with their jobs.
A mentor will keep you accountable
In your career path, you may need to earn additional qualifications, work on your soft skills, develop new technical skills, or apply yourself in certain situations and opportunities.
Your mentor can be there to make sure you’re following the steps you planned out and are always working toward your goals. Of course, you don’t want someone to hold your hand, because your independence is what makes your career path yours. But, you can have them hold you accountable so you achieve your full potential.
You’ll get regular constructive feedback
A mentorship relationship can last as long as you and your mentor think it’s beneficial, and during that time, they’ll be there to give you feedback on your choices, decisions you have to make, and any progress you’ve made toward your goals. This feedback will also be objective—meaning they don’t have any reason to sugarcoat things or tell you what you want to hear like a friend or loved one might. Honest feedback can be the difference between making a wise career move and making one that’s too safe and won’t get you where you want to go.
After your mentorship relationship has ended, you may be able to continue reaching out to this person for feedback. And that feedback can be an essential long-term resource as you strive to be the best version of yourself when it comes to your career.
You’ll gain access to a wide network of professionals
Your mentor automatically becomes part of your network when you begin working with them. That means that you join their network, too. Expanding your network is one of the best ways to get ahead in your career, and a mentor will let you tap into a wealth of new contacts that will have their own insights and advice to share.
Say you need to get a graduate degree or certification to give your resume an extra boost and stand out from the crowd. Your mentor may have connections to the program or a person who has that credential. Or perhaps you want to apply to a specific company. Your mentor might know someone who works for that company and even for that particular team. All of these connections can streamline your career path and take it to the next level at a rapid pace.
You have someone to vouch for your skills and experiences
You can also ask your mentor to recommend you for an opportunity. Maybe you need a letter of recommendation for a school or need a strong reference for a job you’re applying for. Ask your mentor to write that letter or be available for that email or call.
Many mentors are happy to accept—especially if they believe that you’ve got what it takes to succeed. They’ll be able to vouch for your skills and passions, both of which they learned about during their regular mentorship meetings with you. They can even provide insight on how the opportunity can better help you reach your career goals, because they know exactly where you want to be thanks to their conversations with you.
Don’t let the end of your mentorship relationship stop you from asking for a recommendation in the future. Many former mentors are also happy to advocate for you and help you down the road. Just make sure to stay in contact and maintain an intentional relationship with them.
No matter what industry you’re in, a mentor can be a valuable person to have in your corner. Whether they’re involved in helping you make decisions about your next steps or they’re a sounding board for ideas, mentors can give you the confidence and guidance to take those next steps—whatever they are.
Erik Bergman, founder of Great.com, is a guest contributor for TVI.