Mentors can be crucial to your professional and personal development, no matter your career stage. But how do you find one? Should you choose someone in your industry? Does it need to be a person you know?
Here are five strategies you should consider when trying to find a mentor who is right for you.
1. Find someone successful in your field.
Do a little research to find a professional in your industry. If you’re a web designer, for example, you might want to ask a creative director to become your mentor. This person will be able to speak the right lingo, and he or she will likely know professionals in your industry, which will be helpful for climbing the ladder.
You might think first of people within your company, but this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, your mentor doesn’t need to work with you — and it might be better if she isn’t because then she can speak more openly. If you and your mentor don’t have too many shared acquaintances, then you likely will be able to be more transparent and honest.
Industry events are another great place to look. If you’re in marketing, for instance, you might consider attending a marketing association conference or joining a local chapter of a national organization.
2. Consider a person’s experience level.
While it’s not crucial to have someone with a lot of experience, it will help if you find a person who has been in your shoes before. A mentor who has more authority and experience can speak to a diverse range of workplace situations and will have more advice to pull from. It might also also be helpful if your mentor has managed people, especially if you are looking to gain management experience yourself.
On the flip side, someone with less experience might not have as much material to share, but you wouldn’t have to compete for her attention. She would have more time to devote to you and might not be as stuck in her ways as someone who has been doing the same thing for a long time.
3. Think about whether you want someone you know.
Choosing someone who you know may be helpful because you already have a baseline relationship. That said, this person might be more worried about hurting your feelings when offering direction and making you feel uncomfortable with critiques or feedback.
If you want a more business-like relationship, choose someone who is relatively new to you. Consider asking your inner circle if they know anyone who might be a good fit. Don’t be afraid to think big. If someone inspires you but seems out of your league, it can’t hurt to ask. People often underestimate someone’s willingness to help.
4. Find someone who seems happy.
The last thing you want in a mentor is someone who is jaded or disenchanted. It will be incredibly hard to get inspired by someone who isn’t inspired themselves.
If you get the sense after a few meetings that your mentor isn’t happy or isn’t going to be helpful, don’t waste your time continuing the relationship. It’s okay to feel like someone else might be a better fit for you. When ending the relationship, be honest but polite, and be sure to thank him for the time thus far.
5. Don’t find someone too agreeable.
It’s natural to want to find someone who is kind, but there are benefits in choosing an opinionated mentor. If you want to get ahead in your career, it’s wise to choose someone who will challenge you and get you thinking outside the box.
While receiving criticism isn’t easy, this is where working with someone opinionated can come in handy: It will help you learn how to take feedback gracefully.
A few tips to get you started:
A lot of us aren’t accustomed to asking people for favors, but don’t be afraid to approach someone. The worst that can happen is that he or she says no. And if that happens, perhaps that individual will recommend someone else who could be a good fit and available to mentor you.
Come prepared. Be specific to how you think your mentor will assist you and what you want to accomplish in the relationship. This will ensure that both of you are on the same page.
Say what’s working for you and what isn’t. The more open you are in the relationship, the more likely you are to get out of it exactly what you need.