Regardless of your field, the competition to find and keep a job, as well as to advance, is fierce. Just staying afloat can be a struggle for those entering into the workforce after graduation and those who are beginning new jobs that they hope to make into a career.
As with all things in life, being successful at work is a much smoother process when you ask for guidance from someone who has already been successful. The wisdom and experience of a mentor is an invaluable tool for anyone who wants to avoid making rookie mistakes while climbing the professional ladder.
Mentors can guide aspiring professionals in the right direction. They have learned from their own experiences and attained both tangible and mental resources that can be of assistance when starting out in life.
Who Would Make a Good Mentor?
Choosing a potential mentor is not something that should be taken lightly. The best mentors are experienced, trustworthy, reliable and even-keeled. They should be pragmatic, objective and logical. They must be willing to be honest with you regarding your ideas and actions, and not be afraid to give you feedback, positive or negative.
A mentor must also be someone whom you feel comfortable talking openly with – someone with whom you have good rapport. A good mentor will provide guidance, share experiences and help you to structure your professional life in a way that is productive and conducive to advancement.
How to Choose a Career Mentor
When choosing a mentor, aim for someone with objectivity. A close friend or family member is less likely to be able to assess your professional life pragmatically and objectively, and, as such, will not be the most effective choice for a mentor. Look for professional contacts instead.
How can you know which people in your life right now would be an appropriate choice as a mentor?
First, consider your recent educational experience. If there were any teachers or professors who you felt exceptionally close to and whose advice you regarded highly, they may be a good choice.
If you have an established position at work, and are looking to restructure your professional life with the goal of advancement, someone in your company who has been in your position and successfully advanced is an excellent option. Keep in mind that this person should not be chosen randomly – they should be someone who you are at least acquainted with, like and trust, and with whom you share mutual respect. Make sure that their reputation with management is also good –keeping company with someone who is targeted as an undesirable employee may reflect poorly on your judgment.
Asking Someone to Be Your Mentor
The next step is asking someone if they would be willing to mentor you. This can be an intimidating step, because you will be conceding a lack of experience and authority to someone you respect. If this step is too hard, you might examine how much you want and need this relationship. Remember that the person you are asking is someone who should respect you as well; they will likely be honored by your request, even if they do not accept it.
When preparing to ask someone to mentor you, you should make two important lists. The first list details the reasons why you feel the individual would be the most effective choice as a mentor- the reasons why you chose that person. The second list should be a detailed assessment of what you hope to accomplish. These lists will help the person understand what you would need from them in a mentoring relationship.
When the time comes to talk, schedule a face to face meeting. Talking through email or on the phone can diminish the sincerity of your request and make it harder to read subtle cues in body language and expression. Conveying that you are serious in your quest to be mentored will reassure the person that you’re not going to waste their time.
Having Your First Chat with Your Mentor
Begin by explaining that you asked to meet with them because you are at a juncture in your professional life at which you feel that you need the guidance of someone with more experience and wisdom than you have. Tell them that you carefully considered the people you know; they seemed to be the best choice to offer that guidance – and explain why. Then, ask them if they would be willing to mentor you, explaining your needs and goals. It’s a good idea to outline what you have in mind: do you meet weekly, monthly, or only when you have a question? For how long? For how many minutes each time? Is this a work activity, or personal, to be conducted during your off hours? Will you meet in person, by phone, or over Skype? Setting a time limit (3 months, for example) will make most people feel more comfortable than they would making an open-ended promise.
A potential mentor may say yes immediately. It is possible, however, that the person you are asking will want to take the time to consider whether this is something they feel comfortable with and whether they can commit the time and energy to do it right. You must also be prepared in case the person, no matter how politely, declines. Give them time to think about the proposal, and respect the answer, whatever it is.
If they decline, they may offer an explanation, but it is inconsiderate to ask for one if it is not provided. They may not have the time or feel that they don’t have the skills or patience. If you have chosen your candidate well, and outlined the process well, there is a reasonable chance that they will gladly agree to provide the guidance and wisdom you need.