Finding a Mentor

Jan 22nd, 2012 | By | Category: Career advice, choosing a mentor, mentor, networking, opportunity, persuasion

Several of us would be happy to have a mentor. Trouble is finding one. What makes someone take enough interest in you to expend the time and effort to be a true mentor? Even in organization where there is a formal mentor program, most are failures. Most senior staffers are still competing for the same promotions and raises, and have ended up working for someone younger than them. Why should they help someone get a head of them? Secondly, senior staffers may not be the best mentors. After 20 to 30 years in a career if you are still a staffer, do you really have the knowledge and experience to help someone else with their careers? Most of us are not pursuing a career as a senior staffer.

I have been fortunate to find a couple of mentors along my career path. I have also passed up several golden opportunities along the way. Once can only wonder what difference it would have made. All of my mentors were bosses first, then friends then mentors. In no case did I pick someone, and convince them to become my mentor. This would be a much better strategy, but every time I tried to develop a mentor relationship with someone I thought could help me, I failed. Perhaps I my intentions were too transparent. I have seen others get others to enlist influential, well-connected mentors.

How Doug did it. Doug was a Doctorate Candidate in Communications. His advisers included a member of the agency who secured Doug a temporary position while he completed his theses. Doug was hired at a mid pay grade owing to his education. Doug was very savvy and had good outgoing people skills. He tried to be friends with everyone, and was well liked. He made it a point to try to be friends with everyone, and not to say anything negative about anyone. Doug started off as special. He played his completion of course work on his doctorate as an Ace in the whole as credibility credential. He did this by telling everyone of his situation in finishing his thesis. This way everyone knew. Although everyone was a little impressed none really cared. When the administration changed, one of newly appointed office chiefs was the Dean of Engineering at a well know university. Doug began immediately to purse him as a friend and mentor. Doug persuaded his advisor to transfer him into the Dean’s department under the Chief Technologist who reported to the Dean. Over the course of a couple of years Doug managed to become close friends with the Dean, get promoted to an important position in the department, complete his doctorate, and secure a professorship at the Dean’s university.

Although there were several people who tried to get close to the Dean, Doug was the only truly succeeded. How did he do it? Although it looked easy, Doug worked very had to make friends with the Dean. Doug would watch for the Dean to head for the elevator, then run to catch the same one. I would bet that Doug used the elevator time to introduce himself, and tell the Dean about his finishing up his doctorate. Doug assigned to the Chief Technologist who met with Dean on new technology issues. Doug would find out what they were discussing by volunteering to do research for the Chief Technologist. This gave Doug inside information to know which issues were of interest to the Dean, and made sure he was up to date on them. I am sure that he would talk about these with the Dean during his planned chance meetings. Soon Doug was invited to meetings with the Dean and the Chief Technologist. Although the Chief Technologist didn’t appreciate Doug’s butting into his turf, Doug managed to capture the Dean’s attention. When tensions grew between Doug and the Chief Technologist, Doug had enough influence to persuade the Dean to split the Chief Technologist job, and give him half based on his advanced degree and thesis work. Doug was able to end up comfortably under the Dean’s wing, where he remains today.

Several others tried to get the Dean to take an interest in them, but to no avail. Was it Doug’s pursing a doctorate, the connections and influence of his advisors, the elevator visits, knowing which issues interested the Dean, or a combination of all of the above, it was not something that everyone could do.

There is merit in pursing friendships and mentor status with influential people, but it often difficult. Depending on luck that you meet someone who will take an interest in you is risky. In over 40 years of working I only was fortunate to have three true mentors. Although life coaches are a relatively new service, it may be worth a look, especially if you are facing career challenges on your own.

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