A mentor is a trusted advisor who guides and encourages you in your career. Having a mentor can help you succeed at your workplace and in your career.
Think of a mentor as a personal coach. In terms of your career, a mentor is someone who:
- Answers your questions
- Offers advice and constructive criticism
- Suggests resources
- Helps you network
- Sets an example
With a mentor, you establish an ongoing relationship and make a commitment. You meet with your mentor regularly to track your progress and set goals.
Prepare for a mentor
If you’re interested in finding a mentor, first ask yourself these questions:
- What are my short- and long-term career goals?
- What skills, knowledge, and experience do I need to reach these goals?
- Do I have a realistic view of my strengths and weaknesses?
- Can I handle constructive criticism?
Know how to find a mentor
Your workplace may offer a formal mentoring program that assigns you a mentor.
But there may not be a formal program or you may prefer choosing your own mentor. Look for someone who has the experience to guide you. Consider these suggestions:
- Be sure you have your supervisor’s support for your plans.
- Look for a mentor from outside your chain of reporting relationships.
- Be careful if you choose a mentor who is at a higher level than your supervisor or is your boss’s boss. Either situation could create issues or breed resentment.
- Think about a mentor from outside your workplace. Could such a mentor offer valuable insights, particularly if familiar with your industry, workplace, and job?
Your mentor can be:
- A former supervisor, instructor, or employer
- A member of your online business network
- Someone in your business association or union
- A member of a community group you belong to
Know what to look for in a mentor
A good mentor can see your potential and help you live up to it. Look for someone who has the qualities and skills you want to apply to your own career. An effective mentor is also:
- A good listener
- Trustworthy, ethical, and respected
- Knowledgeable, skilled, and well–connected
- Interested in guiding, inspiring, and empowering
- Successful and experienced, with a proven track record
What if you have a mentor in mind but aren’t sure? Try to learn more about the person:
- Talk with people who’ve worked with your potential mentor.
- Check out any online profiles, such as on a business networking website.
- Read articles about the person’s work, such as company reports and newsletters, to see what they’ve achieved or find interesting.
Approach a mentor
Once you’ve picked a person to ask, think about how you will do it.
Your initial approach can be formal or informal, depending on how well you know your potential mentor and what you think will work best. If you choose a formal approach, be ready to:
- Describe your career goals
- Explain why you want the person to be your mentor
- Present a list of items you’d like help with
- Find out what’s expected of you
- Suggest a time commitment
- Decide how you will communicate
If you decide on an informal approach, ask your potential mentor for advice about a specific item. Then keep in touch about the outcome. As your relationship develops, ask if you can continue to meet.
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 take steps to maintain 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. Keep conversations confidential. What you do and how you do it reflects on your mentor.
- Be 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 with a note, email, or small token of appreciation.
Once a mentor relationship has been established, it is important to maximize the learning experiences available. The following tips from Peer Resources may be helpful for youth:
- Plan ahead. Prior to your first meeting with your mentor, write down at least three things you would like to achieve through mentoring. Rank the three items in order of importance to you. Also write down three things that concern you most about meeting with your mentor. Rank these three things in order of importance.
- Reflect on your role. If not included in either of the lists created above, write down at least three attitudes or perspectives you will be able to provide during the mentoring sessions. If possible, write down three things about yourself that might get in the way of you being able to make the most of the mentoring opportunity.
- Anticipate success. If not included in your lists, write down at least three things you would like your mentor to provide.
- Introduce yourself. Prepare a brief autobiography based on the above lists that you can share with your mentor when you first meet. Be sure to also include your own vision, mission or life goals.
- Manage time. It is likely that you selected your mentor or were matched with your mentor because of the mentor's resources. This typically means that your mentor has both considerable gifts and a tight time schedule. Dealing with time is a key aspect of the success of mentoring. Make sure you are clear about your needs.
- Mutual learning. The focus of most successful mentoring is mutual learning. Feel free to explore what you have to offer the mentor. A sense of humour and a sense of enjoyment of your time together are essential as well. If your needs are not being met, discuss this with your mentor. Terminating a mentoring relationship or switching to a different mentor are not signs of failure. Recognizing your changing needs and finding a respectful way to meet your learning goals are keys to successful mentoring.
Your needs, and the kind of mentor you require, will change over the course of your career. When a mentoring relationship no longer provides what you need, allow it to evolve into a friendship.