How to Find a Mentor – Do You Really Need One?
Google ‘How to Find a Mentor’ and you get 133,000,000 results. Ok, so maybe you are looking for a mentor while you are in college. You can narrow your search to 89,600,000 results. How about a mentor in business? That’s just 92,100,000 options. With so much information out there, how are you supposed to figure out how to find a mentor, or even if you should find one?
Why Do You Want a Mentor
Before you start running around trying to find a mentor, let’s consider why you want to have one.
- Are you just graduating from college and you want someone to guide you in pursuing a career?
- Are you trying to transition from one career to another?
- Are you looking for someone to mentor you in advancing your career?
- Do you need encouragement?
- Are you looking for someone to help you figure out what to do next?
- Or have you just heard a lot of buzz about having a mentor and think you should have one?
Your reason for wanting a mentor will probably change over time.
Open up an Excel Spreadsheet and title Column 1 “Why You Want a Mentor. In the column, list each reason why you want a mentor. If you don’t like Excel, you can use a sheet of paper. Just leave room for 6 columns.
What Do You Want From Your Mentor?
To help you decide who to ask, it’s a really good idea to decide first what you want from a mentor. This is different than why you want a mentor. This should define specifically what you would like your mentor to do in his/her relationship with you. The more specific and detailed you can be, the better you will be able to work out a good relationship with a mentor.
Look at the 1st column that you created: “Why I Want a Mentor”. Create Column 2 and title it “What I Want My Mentor to Do”. For each reason that you listed, you are going to identify the things that you would like your mentor to do. For example, let’s say that your list of ‘Why You Want a Mentor’ looks like this:
- Need help understanding how to move into management
- Would like to be a better and more confident speaker
- Trying to break into healthcare now that I have my Masters in Healthcare Management
- I feel stuck in my career. I need some encouragement and someone to help me talk through what to do next.
Next to #1, list the things that you would like the mentor for this ‘need’ to do. Your list might include: share their story of how they got into management; make recommendations for what I can do to position myself for a management role; help me interact with people within the company who could help me move into management; help me understand what the roles and responsibilities of managers are; help me evaluate whether management is really right for me; etc.
Do this exercise for each item on your ‘Why I Want a Mentor’ list.
As you are completing this process you may start to think of people who might be a good fit. Perhaps it’s one person for each item, or maybe one person can fulfill all of your needs. There is no rule that says you can only have one Mentor. You may even decide that some of your needs can be met in other ways, such as training.
When you have completed the exercise, take a break. Give yourself some time to think about people in your life who have been mentors or who might be a good mentor.
Finding a Mentor
You may have already had a mentor. Maybe it was a teacher who inspired you. Or a parent who encouraged you. Or a manager who helped you learn the business. You may not have even thought of them as a mentor. Many times, those ‘mentors’ are wonderful because the relationship developed naturally. You probably didn’t have to ask them to mentor you. They simply helped because they wanted to. Think about people in your life who have helped you in some way. Can you identify the mentors in your life? By thinking about people who have already mentored you, it may help you begin to identify people that you would like to mentor you now. Think about your relationship with previous mentors. What was it like? Was it formal or informal? How did they help you? How did you help them?
Now it’s time to go back to your Real Person Mentor List. In the third column you are going to create a list of potential mentors. Think about people who have already achieved some of the things that you would like to accomplish. List the person’s name each time they match up to one of your needs from column 1. In column 4 write down your association with that person and in column 5 put a number from 0 to 5 that identifies how well you know this person. (0 = you don’t know them, aka LeBron James, and 5 = you know them very well)
In column 6 jot down any notes that help clarify why you feel this person would be a good mentor for the particular need.
Column 3 can also contain a group name. For example, you may have a church group, a men’s or women’s group, or some other group where you could share your ideas and get terrific feedback. You may even consider starting your own group of people you know who have similar needs. One person I know attends a regular, weekly breakfast meeting with a small group of men. They meet to support and provide encouragement to each other. Another advantage of forming a group is, in addition to providing valuable resources, the group can hold you accountable. It’s like the concept of Weight Watchers and other similar groups.
Asking Someone to Be Your Mentor
I’ve never been a big fan of trying to create a formal Mentor/Mentee relationship. These relationships usually evolve over time. They often begin with one person simply asking another person a question.
Let’s take an example from our list: ‘Trying to break into healthcare after completing a Master’s degree in healthcare management’. When you created your spreadsheet you listed a neighbor that you know who is working as a manager for Kaiser Hospital in your area. You rated him a 3 out of 5 because, while you know him as a neighbor, you don’t know him that well. Let’s call your neighbor Tom.
Over the weekend you see Tom out in his yard. You walk over and say ‘hello’ and start to chat. Then you say, “I remember that you told me you have been working at Kaiser for quite some time now. Do you enjoy it there?” (Tom replies yes) “I’d sure like to know more about Kaiser and getting into healthcare. You’ve got such a terrific background in healthcare…would you be open to sitting down with me sometime to help me understand it better?” You could add, “You have been so successful in the healthcare industry. I’d love to take my career in a similar direction and would value your guidance.” (Tom says, “Sure. When would you like to get together?”)
This relationship starts out with a friendly conversation. You have made sure to applaud Tom’s expertise (“You’ve got such a terrific background in healthcare..”). You have asked a simple question that will open up possibilities for talking with Tom about Kaiser and healthcare management. You haven’t asked Tom to be your Mentor. Heck, you don’t know yet if you even want Tom to be your mentor. But it’s a start to building a relationship that could lead to you having a new Mentor and a good friend.
If someone says ‘no’ to your Mentor relationship, that’s not a bad thing. It’s much better to know in the beginning that it’s not a good fit before you spend a lot of time and energy on the relationship. You want people who are genuinely interested in helping you be successful and you want people that you enjoy spending time with.
Defining the Relationship
When you first connect with someone in a potential mentor/mentee relationship you’ll be exploring whether or not it’s a good fit for both of you. Depending on how the conversation goes, you may feel comfortable asking the person if they would consider mentoring or advising you toward your specific goals. Be sure you are clear about what those goals are. These are the goals you listed on your spreadsheet in column 1. Tell them the kinds of things you need help with – these are the things you listed in column 2. Ask them where they feel they could best help? Make sure you let them know that you are completely open to their suggestions and value their thoughts and ideas. Being defensive when you receive Mentor feedback can kill the relationship faster than an Indy race car.
Together, define how the relationship will work best for both of you. That includes how often you will meet, how you will interact (phone, email, text, in person, Skype – there are many possibilities), and what is of you should bring to the table. Be sure to ask your potential Mentor what would make this relationship worthwhile to them. What can you do for them? You never know. Perhaps you have an area of expertise that is something they would like to learn about. I am always reminded of Zig Ziglar’s quote, “You can get anything in life that you want if you just help enough people get what they want.”
Don’t Confuse LinkedIn Connections With a Mentor
There are plenty of ways that you can connect with other people through LinkedIn. For those of you looking for a job, a great strategy is to search for jobs at a specific company and then see which connections you have that work for that company. If you are unsure how to do that, leave a note in the comments below and we’ll reply with the steps to follow.
Just because you are connected with someone at a company where you might like to work, that doesn’t make that person a Mentor. Could they become one? Maybe. But before you start sending them Direct Messages asking them to advise you, go through the steps outlined in this article to see if they fit the criteria. My experience has been that, in many cases, these connections aren’t people that you know well. In fact you may not know them at all, but you connected somewhere along the line.
We’ve all gotten those emails from a Linkedin Connection: “Hi Heather. We’re connected on LinkedIn. I have some awesome software that will change your life forever. What day next week can we meet so I can give you a demo and find out when you want to buy it?” DELETE…..
If you have a LinkedIn connection at a company that you might consider for employment, start slowly. Ask about them. Be a great listener. See if there is anything you can do to help them. Find out who they are and what makes them tick. Then you can ask them, “What’s it like to work for your company?” These connections aren’t Mentors. At least not yet.
Don’t Stop at One
You can have multiple mentors in your life. Some are what I call ‘Mini-Mentors’. These are people who provide some small measure of guidance to you. Maybe it’s the person who always encourages you when you get down. Maybe it’s the person who holds you accountable when you procrastinate. (not that you would EVER do that…) Then there are the Major-Mentors. These are people who provide significant guidance in your career or your life. You can have Mini-Mentors and Major-Mentors throughout your life.
Pay It Backward
A good Mentor gives a lot of his/her time to have you be successful. A great Mentee always takes the time to thank and acknowledge the Mentor AND to make sure the needs of the Mentor are being met. There’s nothing like a thank you note, an unexpected gift, or simply calling to tell them of a success that you achieved because of their guidance. You’ll be doing yourself a favor, too. It’s a proven fact that a person’s Serotonin level increases (what makes you happy) when they say or do something nice for someone else.
Pay It Forward
One of the key reasons someone agrees to help guide another person is because they welcome the opportunity to help make a difference for someone else. As you are developing your relationships with people who can guide and advise you, consider doing the same thing for someone else. You’ll be surprised at how it boosts your confidence and gives you purpose. You’ll also learn a lot about what it takes to be a mentor and how to develop a mentor relationship. There are some interesting thoughts from famous personalities about mentoring and the difference it can make. You can read them here.
- Determine why (or if) you want a mentor
- Decide what you want from a mentor
- Identify people as potential mentors
- Build a relationship that could lead to someone becoming your mentor
- Define the relationship
- Don’t Stop at One
- Pay It Backward
- Pay It Forward
Are You Looking For a Mentor? Have You Had a Mentor?
Describe why you are looking for a mentor in the comments below. Or tell us what your experience has been working with a mentor. By sharing your stories you are providing mentorship for our group!