Mentors are great, but they aren’t always who you’d expect them to be.
Having a mentor to champion and guide you is one of the best ways to advance in your career. But finding someone on your team to play that role isn’t always easy.
Sometimes the person you want to be your mentor is too busy to adequately help you navigate your career. Other times the people who are available are not ones you really respect or trust.
So what do you do?
Go up and out.
If your immediate boss or colleagues are unable to be a good mentor (for whatever reason), look up inside your company.
Is your boss’s boss someone you look up to? Is there an executive or an experienced pro on a different team who you aspire to be?
If you’re looking around and don’t see anyone, go outside your company. Identify people you already trust and admire, who may offer good career guidance.
This could be a past boss or colleague, someone from a professional organization you belong to, or even a friend or family member who has a successful career. Once you start looking, you’ll probably see there are a lot of people who are willing to help you.
Once you find a mentor, how to do approach them?
I like to start by sending a short e-mail or text to a would-be mentor. Ask them if they have 20-30 minutes for a coffee during the workday to talk about [insert subject]. If they don’t work close to you, ask to arrange a phone call.
This short amount of time makes this ask seem doable and believe me, people love making time to offer advice and talk about their past experiences. If you don’t hear back from them, don’t be afraid to follow up after a few days.
Once they agree, make sure to always pick a time and place that’s convenient for THEM. After all, they are doing you a favor.
Before the meeting, develop a few talking points to stay focused so you don’t waste their time.
During the meeting, have a pen and notebook handy to jot down their insights. A laptop or tablet is fine too, but sometimes it can seem like you’re not paying attention in a face-to-face meeting.
At the end of the meeting, thank them for their time and ask if it’s alright to reach out for advice periodically and they best way to do so.
If you discover they aren’t the right mentor for you, keep searching. There’s a ton of professionals out there who can help you in your career. In fact, don’t limit yourself to one. You can have multiple mentors who offer you different things. Maybe one is your career path guide, one is your work-life balance guru and another is your industry expert.
Lastly, your relationship with a mentor should be ongoing. Make sure you continually stay in touch, even if it’s not career related, like wishing them a happy birthday or sending them an interesting article. This builds your relationship and shows you care about them, not just their advice.
Don’t get discouraged if your immediate boss isn’t fulfilling all your career needs. If you look up and out, you will find a wealth of information all around you.
How did you find your mentor?