How To Choose A Mentor

Apr 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Career advice

A mentor is a trusted friend, counselor or teacher; usually a more experienced person who gives you advice or teaches you how to cope with circumstances and situations may arise. Finding a good mentor is one of the best strategic moves to ensuring professional achievement and success.

There are several different levels of mentors. Some are very dear friends while others may be complete strangers. Humans are social animals and learn most of their behavior interacting with others. A mentor is someone with experience and success in your area of interest, and can save the time and trouble of learning through trial and error.

Although we may copy some of a mentor’s mannerism, what a mentor does is more personalized. A mentor provides advice and guidance regarding real life circumstances and situations. Although teachers and coaches may also be mentors, mentors usually have real life experience in their area of expertise. This is an important distinction, for it the real life situations where advice from someone who has experienced similar situations are the most effective.

Finding a mentor early on is one of the wisest career moves. Not only will the mentor be able to help you over the rough spots, but may provide valuable career path advice to ease the climb up the corporate ladder. Often opportunities arise that appear to be real career boosters only to turn out to be dead-ends or detours. An experienced mentor can speed your promotion path by steering around obstacles and road bocks.

The more personal your relationship is with a your mentor the better. A friendly mentor and ease the sting of disappointment and add much needed encouragement. There is much to be learned from others besides personal mentors. Watching how successful people handle situations is one of the best learning tools next to a personal mentor. Although people often refer to these role models as mentors they do not provide the personal interaction that makes a mentor so valuable. If you are looking for a mentor you may want to consider the following advice.

Karen Burns the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at Offer the following 13 tips to consider when looking for a mentor in article for US News
1. Be clear on why you want a mentor. Are you looking for someone to offer specific advice? Do you want a conduit to your industry’s movers and shakers? Or do you just need a sounding board?
2. Define your personality and communication style. What kind of mentor would best complement you? You may choose someone who’s your opposite (an extrovert to your introvert, for example), or someone in whom you see yourself (and vice versa).
[3. When asking someone to be your mentor, explain why you’re asking and what you’d expect out of the relationship (see No. 1). Name your reasons for approaching this particular person. Don’t be afraid to be flattering (e.g. “I’m asking you because you are the most successful person I know”).
4. A mentor is a powerful role model. Look for someone who has the kind of life and work you’d like to have. Also, choose a mentor you truly respect. Don’t just go for the biggest name you can find.
5. Before asking someone to be your mentor, consider first simply asking for input on a single specific topic. How did that go? Was it good advice? Was it delivered in a way that made sense to you, and filled you with confidence and energy?
6. Look for ways you can reciprocate the help your mentor offers. At the very least, you can occasionally spring for lunch or, say, send a fruit basket. You don’t want to be all take-take-take.
7. Show gratitude. Never let your mentor feel taken for granted! Also, supply feedback. If your mentor suggested something that really worked out for you, report back. People love hearing about their part in a success story.
8. When looking for a mentor, think beyond former bosses and professors. Look to older family members or friends, neighbors, spiritual leaders, community leaders, the networks of your friends and colleagues, or officials of professional or trade associations you belong to. Avoid asking your direct supervisor at work. You want to be free to discuss workplace issues as well as your plans for future advancement.
9. Keep in mind that mentoring can take many forms. It can be a monthly lunch, a quarterly phone call, a weekly handball game, or merely a steady E-mail correspondence. Your mentor does not even have to live in your city or region.
10. Many mentors derive pleasure from “molding” someone in their own images—great for them and great for you if you want to be molded. But beware of mentors who are too bossy, controlling, or judgmental. This is your path, not theirs.
11. Don’t become too dependent on your mentor. The idea is that one day you will eventually be able to fly on your own. In fact, you may not take every bit of advice your mentor offers. Continue to think for yourself.
12. Guess what: You’re allowed to have more than one mentor. In fact, you can have a whole committee if you want, and call it your Board of Directors. Choose different mentors for different facets of your professional (and even personal) life.
13. Finally, if you ask someone to be your mentor and that person refuses, don’t be hurt or offended. This is not personal! Potential good mentors are very busy people. Thank him or her for the consideration, and ask for a referral.

There is no magic formula for choosing a mentor. Often mentors appear in the least likely places and circumstances. However, not everyone wants to be a mentor, nor does rank and responsibilities automatically make a person qualified to be a mentor. Even in companies where there is an established mentor program, you should shop around to find a mentor who you like, is easy to talk with, and will give you good honest advice.

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