Finding a Mentor, What, Why & How

  • Sari Friedman
  • January 28, 2020

Careers are a journey. A journey with ups, downs, twists and curves. Successful journeys typically include planning and navigation. Even at times when you feel capable of managing the journey, it’s likely you could benefit from the insights and expertise of a mentor.

What? A mentor is someone who is in a similar career or role as yours and has guidance and insight that would be beneficial to you. The mentor’s role can be passive or active. Passively, a mentor may be someone who demonstrates qualities and skills that can positively impact your career. Actively, a mentor provides advice, helps to identify goals and sheds light on qualities and skills you need to enhance your career. Mentorship can be formal or informal. Some industries and organizations have formal mentorship programs. This is particularly true for roles that require a practicum, where there is a set of skills required to fulfill a role. These programs tend to be structured, with a clear set of requirements, accountabilities and an evaluative component.  Organizations may choose to have formal mentorship programs to help orient, develop or engage employees. Informal mentoring usually takes place because it is initiated by the mentor or mentee who has determined that such a relationship would be beneficial. Any structure in the informal mentorship would be driven by the norms established by the mentor and/or mentee.

Why? A dedicated and quality mentor has a lot to offer. They can help identify, clarify and establish goals to enhance your career portfolio. This support can be beneficial to your career development within and beyond your current role. Presumably, the mentor knows about or can help you articulate the qualities and competencies needed for projects and roles beyond the scope of your current role. There is a lot to gain from this person’s expertise and potentially from their network.

How? The first step in developing a relationship with a mentor should be to see whether the organization has a formal program. If so, think about what areas you would like to focus on so you can have a productive conversation with the program coordinator. Hopefully this will result in being paired with a qualified and effective mentor. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the program, particularly what you need to do to help make the process successful. For organizations that do not have a formal program, it is best to consider who may be a suitable person to offer guidance and direction. You can use LinkedIn to conduct research. You will want to formulate what your hopes, goals and expectations are so you can use that as a starting place. Whether it is a formal or informal mentorship, be sure the timing and content of your communication with the person matches the expectations the two of you put in place. In other words, don’t wait for the mentor to connect with you, best to make that your priority. Always be mindful of and thankful for their time and guidance. It is likely that their efforts will contribute to the evolution of your career, within your current role and into the future.