“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton
Do you need a mentor? Short answer: yes.
Longer answer: yes you do.
Connecting with people who’ve been there, done that can really save you time and effort. Finding someone with related experience can be helpful in identifying shortcuts to tough issues. They might also spot threats which you might not because they’ve travelled this, or similar paths before.
Moreover, the better connected you are, the more you can refine and improve on your ideas (if you’re willing to listen to criticism and feedback). Many hands make light work and many minds create sparks.
A mentor could also open doors that you cannot but don’t rely on other people’s kindness without paying it back into the world in some way – either to that person or back down the ladder if you’re connected to younger or more junior people who might need it. Again if your network is strong – and no one ever said you only needed one mentor – you should be able to reciprocate on connections.
A mentor could open up new opportunities for you, and help you to break out of a small circle and a small circle mindset. This is especially important when you consider that some companies are cut throat and your colleagues don’t have you best interests at heart. Getting a third party’s advice can help. If they are not as close to the situation as you, they might help you gain perspective.
They might also call you out when you are out of order. Or help you spot mistakes.
They might be a better port of call than your boss. We’ve all worked for people we didn’t respect or like, or who didn’t have our best interests at heart but a good mentor might be more effective at giving good advice than your boss.
So what should you look for?
1. Someone who will root for you and go out of their way to help you succeed
2. Someone who isn’t going to try to compete with you.
3. I would suggest someone relatively impartial to your company’s politics and any pettiness within.
4. Someone you respect (duh) and someone you would like to impress or to put it another way: someone who makes you want to be a better person.
5. Someone who can challenge you and give honest feedback.
6. Someone well-connected.
7. Someone you would have similar skills as but not necessarily someone who’s on the exact same career path. Someone with a different approach than you, however, could also help you to learn new skills and new approaches.
8. Someone who others respect.
9. Someone you could be friends with. If this is a long term partnership, it probably will turn into a friendship.
10. Someone who you don’t feel judged by. You need to be able to say the wrong thing and make mistakes in an environment which feels safe.
How do you find a mentor?
1. Think about skills you might be weaker in, tasks you want to try but might not have tried before or people you’d like in your network – who do you know that might be able to help?
2. Make a list of people you know, acquaintances and people who might be connected to friends and colleagues – Linked In is good for mapping relationships.
3. Look for more than one – not everyone will want to help, or have time. So you might have to put yourself out there a lot and be rejected a lot. So what? It’s just not the right time for that relationship. Try not to take it to heart.
4. But do it from the heart. Speak to, email and phone people who genuinely inspire you and who you genuinely want to learn more about and learn more from.
5. Offer a quid pro quo if you can. Or link it to a cause they’re interested in and that they want to further.
6. Be specific and clear about the help you might need and how much time you need from them. That way if it’s a time issue or a knowledge gap, they might tell you and you might be able to negotiate something initially smaller and easier to commit to.
7. Keep your eyes peeled – who knows where you might meet them?!
8. Have some introductory phrases in mind:
- “I read about your work on … project and I liked the way you …”
- “I was talking to … and asked them who was doing great work in this area and they recommended you, I wonder if you could help me …”
- “Would you be open to a quick chat about becoming a mentor? I would like to learn more about … and I can see this is something you’re really good at?”
9. See if you can attend industry networking events and push yourself to open up conversations.
10. Join related clubs if you can find some. Meet-up and Eventbrite are great for finding free networking events on any topic and interest.