The Best Strategies for Finding a Professional Mentor

Many young businesspeople are eager to find an experienced mentor who can help guide them in the early stages of their career. After all, an experienced professional can give those who are just embarking on their career a competitive edge that will help set them apart in today’s business landscape. However, many of those who are interested in finding a mentor do not know how to go about this process. While there is a great deal of information for those that want to become mentors, there seems to be less advice out there for people who want to be mentored. Below, find several strategies that will not only help you find a mentor, but also help you determine whether the mentor you have found is the best fit for you.

Specify exactly what you want in a mentor.

mentorPerhaps the most important strategy for finding a mentor is understanding exactly what you want to get out of the relationship. Writing down all of the qualities you are looking for in a mentor is a good start. Ask yourself the following: Do I want a mentor who will help me define my overall career trajectory? Do I need help identifying or fine-tuning my professional strengths? Is finding a mentor who can help me maximize my networking opportunities in my specific industry important to me? These are only a few of the questions you should ask yourself when compiling your list. If you know exactly what you are looking for, you can be proactive in your search.

Be open to a mentor from any walk of life.

The natural instinct of many young businesspeople is to look for mentorship from those higher up in the company for which they are working. While this is completely understandable, as these people have the most directly related experience, the mentor-mentee relationship is about more than just the transfer of knowledge. The development of character is also very important for those looking to be mentored. While executives within your own business can make good mentors, some experts advise young professionals to look at fellow members of volunteer or business organizations, churches, or even neighbors. Many successful business people state that their closest and most influential mentors were found within their own families, an area that is often overlooked when searching for a professional mentor.

Don’t jump in with both feet; test the water first.

handshakeThe relationship between a mentor and a mentee can be very close, but it must be developed over time in order to avoid creating a power imbalance. The purpose of a mentor is to help guide your professional career – not to tell you exactly what to do. It’s important for such a relationship to start small and build up as the two parties get more comfortable with each other and with the mentor-mentee dynamic. This can take as long as a couple of years, depending on the people involved in the relationship. Of course, it may also take much less time. The important thing is that trust is built, and that the professional dynamic is friendly, not authoritative.

Set up a structured schedule that works for both parties.

It is important for both the mentor and mentee to keep in mind that this is a professional relationship. While the mentor and mentee may grow close through the course of the mentorship, the main purpose of the mentor-mentee relationship is professional development. To that end, experts recommend that the interactions within the mentorship be carefully scheduled and have an explicit agenda, much like a normal business meeting. This will ensure the meeting doesn’t get sidetracked by friendly conversation, as can easily happen with this type of interaction.

It is also important to note that the dynamic should be mutually beneficial, and that the structure of the relationship reflects this. Mentors can get as much from a mentor-mentee relationship as the mentee. Many find their mentees inspiring, and some even form business partnerships with them when they feel the mentees are ready.

Continue looking for a mentor, even after finding the first one.

While the concept of mentoring is popular and widely practiced in today’s business world, it is often misunderstood that such a relationship is only beneficial to a young person just starting out in their career. However, mentorship can be a learning experience for people at all levels of experience. Even an executive can find aspects of his or her career strategy that could use some fresh perspective from another person. Those who seek a mentor after having successfully established their career may find that there is someone more versed in a particular aspect of business than they are, even if that person is younger than them.