When you’re new to the professional world, it can be difficult to find your footing and the skills you need to have to progress. A mentor can help to guide you with experience and professional advice – building that connection could make all the difference in your advancement.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is a professional working in a specific industry who uses his or her business expertise to provide less experienced colleagues with guidance and training opportunities. A mentor provides a mentee with valuable resources and advice that can be used to enhance that individual’s job performance and enable them to excel at work.
Benefits of Mentorship
Mentorship benefits both the mentor and mentee in several ways. In addition to the mentor imparting wisdom based on years of personal experience, interacting with the mentee can help strengthen the mentor’s skill retention and leadership skills.
Here are a few more benefits of mentorship:
- Mentorship provides new professionals with relevant, actionable resources and knowledge.
- Mentorship helps with networking efforts.
- A mentor’s feedback is constructive and can lead mentees toward effectively improving their performance.
- Mentorship builds the interpersonal skills of both parties.
- Being a mentor can enhance your professional recognition in your industry.
Sounds great – but how do you get started?
Finding a Mentor
Mentorships are usually an informal arrangement that one professional makes with another, so you usually won’t have to “sign up” for anything. This is both a positive and negative in some sense, as professionals who want to find a mentor usually need to be proactive.
To find the right mentor, follow these steps:
- Define exactly what you want to achieve professionally. In order to find a mentor that you connect well with, you need to know what you want guidance on, and whether the person you seek possesses that ability.
- Find individuals who are living the professional life you want for yourself. Who has experience working in the position you aspire to reach?
- Work your network. Think about who in your professional circle can help you get in touch with someone who can provide you with the knowledge to build your skill sets in ways that facilitate your success. Network with colleagues, professors, managers, and more.
- Look for professionals who not only have the time and experience needed to provide mentorship but seek out someone who understands where you’re at currently. A mentor who knows what your current work role is like will be able to fine-tune his or her advice to fit your needs.
The hardest part of finding a mentor is establishing a professional relationship. Because mentoring is usually informal, there’s not always a uniform approach when it comes to asking for help.
Is it appropriate to outright ask someone you respect to be your mentor? Sometimes, but not always. If you’re approaching a person you haven’t even met, asking for mentorship right away may not work (but it might be worth a try).
If you’re thinking about asking for guidance from someone you’re familiar with and you have a decent working relationship between the two of you, you will likely have more success.
Sometimes, mentorship happens organically, and neither party is even aware that they’re engaging in mentor/mentee interactions.
To keep it casual, ask for simple feedback from a person you respect, then use that feedback to improve your performance. From there, stay in contact and occasionally reach out again to offer a casual invite to have coffee or lunch.
Making the Most of Your Professional Relationship
Mentorship works best when the relationship is a two-way street. While some mentors don’t mind providing guidance and advice when a mentee needs help, building a meaningful relationship in a professional setting requires give and take.
Regardless of whether you feel like there isn’t much you can give back in return, make an effort. Be willing to return favors when you can. Even experienced professionals struggle with something, so if you’re efficient when it comes to performing that something, offer advice and feedback of your own.
It’s also a good idea to express appreciation and be respectful when it comes to your mentor’s time. If you have a follow-up scheduled, be on time, and try to keep the meeting within the confined timeline your mentor has requested. Plan your discussion topics in advance and be prepared.
Mentorship is a unique way to develop practical skills that apply to your field. By developing a professional relationship with an expert in your field, you can structure the path you’re going to follow to effectively reach your professional goals.