Sometimes a mentor just seems to materialize. A professor takes an interest in something you have written or a research project you have completed. You find her supportive and encouraging. She is helpful with career advice and is happy to serve as a reference when you are applying for your first professional job. Other mentors may be found at work. Your first supervisor may help you adjust to the professional workplace and may help you recognize your potential. If you are an engaged employee and perform well at work, this mentor may assist in advancing your career.
These mentors may be “mentors of convenience” or “serendipitous mentors.” You didn’t seek them out. You were simply lucky to find yourself in their class or in their department at work. Other mentoring relationships, however, must be developed and cultivated. They don’t just occur naturally.
Trying to find a mentor can be awkward and intimidating. You generally can’t just send someone an email asking them to mentor you. You also can shoot too high, or not high enough when trying to find a mentor.
For example, many people think the best mentor is the most important or the most accomplished person in their organization or field. Often, this is inaccurate. High achievers do not always make good mentors.They may be driven and self-serving, or feel that they are entitled to your adoration. Most likely, they have little time to give to a mentoring relationship, and you can end up feeling like a pest who is encroaching on their time.
To find the right mentor at work, you need a plan. There are several tips that can help you get noticed and set you up for a productive mentoring relationship.
1. Work hard–harder than all of your colleagues. The best way to get noticed is to have your work ethic stand out.
2. Volunteer for assignments, but do so strategically. You don’t want to be in the basement putting meeting packets together when you could be writing the background introductions of meeting attendees, or assisting a renowned speaker get settled in the meeting room.
3. Try to attend meetings where possible mentors will be present. Don’t attempt to show off at these meetings–that rarely works in your favor. Instead, at the conclusion of the meeting, make an effort to introduce yourself and make an comment or two about some aspect of the meeting content.
4. Follow the achievements and accomplishments of possible mentors. When you run into one of them in the elevator or at a meeting, you will be prepared to have a meaningful conversation that shows your interest in their area.
5. Join a professional society or group in which your desired mentor is active. This will give you additional opportunities to interact with, and impress, the individual.
Not all mentors are alike, and finding the right mentor for you will take some perseverance. What most young professionals first need is a mentor who is supportive and thoughtful, one who has vision and who enjoys interacting with various groups and exploring new ideas. When you become more experienced, your mentoring needs will probably change. As you move up the career ladder, you may seek a new mentor who can help you learn and master areas such as business strategies or advanced management techniques.
Most importantly, don’t make the mistake of discarding mentors when you feel like you have learned all you can from them. Instead, keep them as valued colleagues. Let them know about your career progress and personal milestones. Send them your new contact information when you change jobs, and always be grateful that they were in your corner.
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