In my recent research with graduates, mentoring is high on their list of support while job searching in their 20s. Young professionals often ask me ‘how do I find a mentor?’ Part of the challenge in responding is to test their understanding of what a mentor does. Also, probing why they want a mentor. A significant mentoring experience can be life-changing (check out the Mentoring Summit). Wise counsel can help you at key points to navigate the unchartered waters of your working life. This post is about knowing what you’re looking for, where to look, and how to make it happen.
Why do you want a mentor?
A mentor is often someone who has been there before and got the t-shirt. They know the pitfalls and how things work to succeed. They enlighten you about the things that get unsaid. At its best, mentoring is a two-way relationship of trust and learning. If you just want to be told what to do or seek a magic answer for getting a job, then think again. Together, you make sense of your situation and the mentor’s advice, guidance and experiences and consider what is relevant. But it’s you who decides what actions to take.
A mentor can help if you do not know what works to get a job or career in a specific field or sector. They can introduce you to people and signpost to resources. You can talk through opportunities and explore the pros and cons. Mentoring helps during a transition for knowledge, awareness, and motivation. Be clear about why you want a mentor. And reflect on your readiness for mentoring.
Below are some sources of potential mentors. They may lead to formal or informal relationships. You don’t have to use the labels ‘mentor’ or ‘mentoring’. Sometimes, the people you are looking for are hiding in plain sight.
People in your desired roles and sectors
Most people genuinely want to help you find your way and are very forthcoming with advice and introductions. I was lucky to meet a number of people quite senior in their industry who were incredibly generous with their time, expertise, and networks and I wouldn’t have experienced the interesting and fulfilling career path I’ve had so far if it weren’t for their support. Graduate
Research the roles and sectors that interest you. Then identify a couple of people in those areas that you can approach. Get clues from their LinkedIn profiles and discussion groups as to how much they enjoy their jobs and their particular personal and professional interests. Become a LinkedIn connection (here’s how to do it well). Start contributing to online debates and share helpful material. Get noticed.
I found a mentor who supported me throughout. Having guidance of a mentor was hugely beneficial for me. She asked the questions that I was possibly to scared to ask myself. I was able to write my own story and internalise it, which gave me the confidence to reach out to the right people at the right time. Graduate
Yes, it costs money. However, the right professional that adds significant value to you is an investment in your job and career journey and saves you the time and stress of working it out alone. When I set up in business for myself, I invested in someone who had done the same a few years before me. The combination of his wisdom about pitfalls to avoid, tips to try out, signposting, and boosting my confidence was invaluable.
Current and Past Work Colleagues
I have kept in touch with old bosses who have helped with introducing me to potential employment. Graduate
At some point during your work experiences, you come across someone with whom you click. They always have your best interests at heart, get the right balance between supporting and challenging you. Just the right amount of stretch for healthy learning. Do you still keep in contact? Is this someone you could approach for advice and guidance? It might be a lecturer or tutor at your former university. What about that person you admire elsewhere in your current organization who is removed from your day-to-day role?
Finding someone who is a couple of years out of the graduate scene and getting their advice is great. Graduate
The advantage of approaching recent graduates now in the workplace is they have recent experience of getting a job or finding a career choice. They know what you are going through and what it takes to succeed. That can be less daunting that someone a lot older or more senior. Generational similarities can break down barriers. If you don’t know anyone, your former university can introduce you to relevant alumni. Many have alumni mentoring schemes. Also, you can research alumni on dedicated university pages on LinkedIn to identify who to approach. Here’s how.
Family and Friends
I have found that advice from my parents has been very useful, as they both are in two very different job sectors and therefore have a range of advice to give. Graduate
Getting advice (helps) from friends who have been successful in getting jobs such as writing CVs. Speaking to those who had been through it before, older siblings and friends who had had similar experiences. Graduate
Sometimes, mentors are the ones closest to you. Just be aware that their objectivity may be compromised. Telling you what to do is not mentoring.
Online and Offline Networks
Ask your peers and mentors to evaluate the opportunity for you. If you know someone who works there, learn about their culture, values and reflect on whether it is for you. If you have friends or colleagues who have made the switch, talk to them about how they made the transition, the ups and downs they faced. The more you invest, the more your network will pay back. Allen Blue, Co-Founder of LinkedIn
Currently, LinkedIn is piloting a mentoring service, Career Advice, in Bengaluru, Australia, and San Francisco. It will help professionals find potential mentors on the platform by matching their requirements with relevant profiles. Watch out for this service when it goes live.
How to approach a potential mentor
People want to help you, you just have to find the right way to ask. Graduate
You might assume that potential mentors are too busy. However, you won’t know until you ask. In my experience, people are more likely to be flattered than to reject a mentoring approach. It depends on a good match between you and them and how you approach them. So, how do you do that?
- Here are some great questions to ask if you meet a potential mentor at an event or as part of networking activities.
- Use the CrystalKnows app to get clues to your potential mentor’s personality and communication preferences. Then adapt your approach for writing or speaking with them directly.
- Have informal conversations to learn and share mutually beneficial information. They help you test out if this person is potential mentor material.
- Here are some tips for overcoming your fears about connecting with strangers on LinkedIn.
- Join a professional institution to extend your network of experts in your field.
- Dealing with rejection: stay in touch and on their radar – it might not be the right time, or the fit is not right. Move on quickly.
If you’re lucky, a mentor finds you. However, you increase your chances through personal initiative and responsibility and being alert to mentoring opportunities. That’s what a wise person would do and also prepares you for being a mentor to others.
If you have a mentor, how did you get together?