A good mentor can change the trajectory of your career, shorten your learning curve, and point out pitfalls that would otherwise impede your professional progress. Given their firsthand experience and well-earned wisdom, they are invaluable at every stage of one’s career. So, what do you look for when you’re looking for a mentor?
- Subject Knowledge: A mentor by definition is someone who has specific subject matter expertise that the mentee wants to tap into. Ideally, your mentor should have held the specific role to which you aspire. It is from this body of practical knowledge and real-world experience that they will draw on to disseminate advice to you.
- Success: Don’t be fooled by job titles, jargon, or theoretical knowledge. It’s not enough to have held the role. Your ideal mentor should have a track record of accomplishments.
- Vulnerability: Skilled mentors are not afraid to share their shortcomings. They understand that the greatest learnings are often born from mistakes, so they are willing to share both the challenges they faced and the blunders they made along the way.
- Humility: Everyone has an ego, but great mentors are able to keep theirs in check to best serve their mentee. Before accepting a new mentee, they will ask themselves questions such as: Do I have the skills/experience to help the person? Do I have the time? Are our personalities, styles and timelines aligned? If the answer to one or more of these is no, a good mentor will refer the person to someone who can better help the individual.
- Experience: While it can certainly be learned “on-the-job” good mentors understand the basics of the mentoring process which typically includes: a set of guidelines for relationship logistics, how to conduct an in-take conversation, how to set and monitor goals, and how to successfully conclude the formal aspect of the relationship at an appropriate juncture.
Of course, one of the most important things to consider when looking for a mentor is to ensure a mentor is what you need. While they are fantastic for helping you navigate subject and industry specific issues, you also have to take into consideration the time during which they faced those “similar” situations. Given the speed of change sometimes what worked in the past may not be as relevant or effective today.
Sometimes you’ll need more generalized instruction that a leadership or “soft skills” trainer can provide. In other cases, you may only require an extra pair of hands that a good consultant can offer. And finally, sometimes you’ll do better by working with a coach who can help you navigate to your own solutions.
Regardless of what type of help you need, never be afraid to seek it out. The idea of the lone-wolf success story is often more tall-tale than career documentary. Everyone has something to learn at every stage of life. Getting a mentor is a great way to fill the void. And remember, once you’ve benefited from the experience, be sure to pass it on by assuming the role yourself. Many people have as much to teach as they do to learn.
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