Mentoring: Finding and Working With a Mentor
A mentor is an experienced, trusted advisor who supports, guides and encourages you in all aspects of your career. Having a mentor can help you succeed in both your organization and your career. A mentor:
- establishes a relationship with you and makes a commitment to assist you
- offers support, resources and constructive criticism
- sets an example of appropriate conduct and career success.
With a mentor, you establish a relationship and make a commitment. You will meet with your mentor on a regular basis to set goals and track your progress.
Preparing for a mentor
Before you begin to look for a mentor, you should consider the following:
- What are your short- and long-term career goals?
- What skills, knowledge and experience do you need to reach these goals?
- Do you have a realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses?
- How well do you handle constructive criticism?
What to look for in a mentor
You'll probably want your mentor to recognize and believe in your potential and encourage you to live up to it. You'll be looking for someone who demonstrates qualities and skills that you admire and want to apply to your own career. An effective mentor is:
- a good listener
- trustworthy, ethical and respected
- knowledgeable, skilled and well-connected
- interested in teaching, guiding, inspiring and empowering
- successful and experienced, with a proven track record and high standards.
How to find a mentor
Your workplace may offer a formal mentoring program. In that case, choosing your mentor rather than accepting an assigned one may result in a more beneficial relationship for both of you.
If there's no formal program, consider approaching someone in a similar position to yours, but with more experience. First, make sure you discuss your plans with your supervisor to ensure their support, especially if your chosen mentor is at a higher level in the organization than your supervisor. You may want to select someone from outside your chain of reporting relationships. For example, choosing your boss's boss as a mentor may create some resentment or other problems.
You may decide to seek a mentor outside of your workplace or field of work. Such mentors can provide valuable perspective as long as they're familiar with your organization and occupation. You may find such a mentor within your existing network, such as:
- a respected former boss, instructor or employer
- a highly regarded member of your online business network
- someone in your business or professional association or union
- a member of a community organization you belong to.
How to approach a mentor
Some research may help you decide how best to approach your potential mentor.
If the person is in your current organization, talk to people who have worked with him or her. Check out the person’s profile on a business networking website. Search the person’s name online. Read articles that focus on the person’s area of work in print resources like company reports and newsletters.
Your initial approach can be formal or informal, depending on how well you know your potential mentor and which approach you think would be most effective. If you choose a formal approach, ask the person directly to mentor you. Be prepared to:
- describe your career goals
- explain why you would like the person to mentor you
- present a list of items you’d like help with
- find out what is expected of you
- suggest a time commitment and communication process.
If you decide on an informal approach, ask your potential mentor for advice about a specific item and keep in touch about the outcome. As your relationship develops, ask if you can continue to meet with the person.
How to make the most of the relationship
You may want to establish some ground rules for your relationship with your mentor. It's up to you to be proactive in maintaining the relationship:
- Be considerate of your mentor's time. A mentoring relationship usually involves only a few hours per month.
- Strive to succeed. Maintain the highest level of integrity and confidentiality. What you do and how you do it reflects on your mentor.
- Be open and honest about your needs. If the relationship is not working, say so in a considerate way. Don’t waste your mentor's time.
- Thank your mentor often. Send a note, an email or a small token of appreciation.
Your needs—and the kind of mentor you require—will change over the course of your career. When a mentoring relationship is no longer providing what you need, allow it to evolve into a friendship.
Benefits to your career
Having a mentor can be very beneficial to your career. When choosing a mentor, look for someone who embodies the qualities you would like to attain. Be open, honest and ethical in your dealings with your mentor, and you will establish a relationship that can support you throughout your career.
Relevant Tips (alis.alberta.ca/tips)
Additional Reading (alis.alberta.ca/publications)
Check out Coaching, Mentoring, and Recognition on the Government of Alberta Corporate Human Resources site for information on mentoring in the Alberta Public Service.