Establish Your Support System: Finding a Mentor Who's Great for You

“I have heard it’s good to have a mentor, but I don’t even know where to begin. How do I go about finding a mentor, and what makes a good one?”—Jon from Manchester, NH

Mentors are people whom you admire. You see the successes that they’ve achieved, and you want to follow in their footsteps. You want to learn from their accomplishments and mistakes. If your mentor works for the same organization that you do, he or she may also help you better understand office politics and support and advocate for you as you move up in your career.
But mentors don’t have to be from within your organization. They can also be leaders in your industry, alumni of your university or simply successful professionals. They may even be people who you meet at conferences, networking events or in everyday life. Some people have one mentor at a time while others rely on several. They may be older or younger than you, but they undoubtedly have experience and knowledge that you want to tap into.
To find the best mentor(s) for you, consider the following tips:

  • Determine What You Want out of the Relationship. Do you want someone who is successful and respected within your organization, or are you looking for more big-picture advice? Do you want someone who has similar values as you or has been through similar personal situations? Do you want someone of the same gender? As the mentee, you are driving the relationship, so you need to know and be able to explain your goals and expectations.
  • List Your Ideal Mentor’s Qualities. All mentors should be good listeners and communicators, be accessible and have expertise that ties to your goals. Good mentors are often confident, positive, goal oriented and have strong leadership skills. That said, you want someone who can support you as you learn and find your own way rather than direct or pressure you to following a specific path. It may be hard to find someone who has every single quality, but this will help guide you in narrowing down your options.
  • Network! Network! Network! As with everything in life, mentoring starts with whom you know. Perhaps your ideal mentor is a former supervisor or colleague, your friend’s supervisor, your mom’s best friend. Maybe it’s a former classmate or professor or a leader of a nonprofit organization that you have volunteered with. Talk to everyone about what you are looking for, and you may be surprised at the recommendations you receive. A note of caution—if one of your goals is to get advice about your current job or workplace, you may want to look outside of your direct reporting line to avoid any awkward conversations and still get the advice you desire.
  • Contact Your Short List. Once you have a short list of people you’re considering, reach out to them and see if they can meet with you for 15 to 30 minutes. If they don’t live in your area, a phone call or video chat will work, but if you can meet in person, that is often best, at least for the first meeting. If this step alone is challenging, you may want to move on down your list. Getting your mentor to set aside time for you should not be difficult.
  • Be Direct but Respectful. In your initial e-mail or call, tell your potential mentors that you would like to pick their brain about a specific topic. Consider preparing a list of questions to guide the conversation at your meeting. After the meeting, follow up to thank them, and at that point, if you would like to move forward, ask if they’d like to start a mentoring relationship. Be sure to explain your goals and expectations—how often do you want to meet, will it be over the phone or in person, for how long will you continue these meetings. If they say no, simply say thank you and ask if they can recommend someone else for you to contact. Don’t take it personally—it could be they don’t feel like they have time to take on a mentee right now or perhaps they feel like they wouldn’t be able to help you meet your goals.

Goodwill can also connect you with a mentor through our GoodProspects Virtual Career Mentors program. If you are ready to take the plunge, sign up today!