A mentor can help guide you through your career, challenge you, and support you. But it isn’t easy to find one— mainly because we often have no idea where to begin! Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort it takes to seek out and build a relationship with a mentor because these relationships often provide value, support, and meaning to us for years down the line.
Who a mentor is
A mentor is a trustworthy person who provides you with insight and advice about your career. They are usually at least a few years “ahead” of you in their career development, and ideally, they will hold a position that you hope to achieve eventually. Of course, this isn’t strictly necessary, but it can be helpful to get advice from someone who works in a similar field and therefore knows the specific challenges you face. Finally, mentorship is a generous commitment someone makes to you. A mentor offers you their valuable time and helps in hopes that you will grow and succeed without any material gain on their behalf. It is an incredibly kind and meaningful relationship to form with another person. If you’re seeking a mentor, remember this: they are doing you a favor, so always be flexible and express your gratitude often. But mentorship isn’t one-sided. The best mentor-mentee relationships are bilateral, meaning that both parties benefit.
A mentor is not someone you can spend every meeting ranting to about all your work challenges, nor do they owe you any favors like connecting you with their colleagues or finding a better job. Any of those things might occur on occasion, but at the end of the day, the mentor-mentee relationship is a professional one, so you should try to treat it as such.
Reasons to find a mentor
There are so many benefits to having a mentor! These include:
- To learn from the experiences of someone who’s gone before you
- To hear an objective, trustworthy perspective on your work challenges and decisions
- To engage with another creative, intelligent person who can push you to be your best self
- To connect with someone who experienced similar setbacks, barriers, and failures
- To meet influential people in your industry
How to find a mentor
Make sure you’re doing the work first.
Before you decide to seek out a mentor, ask yourself these questions: am I already committed to improving myself and growing in my career? Am I open to hearing what a respected person has to share with me, even if I disagree?
You don’t have to wait until you are secure in every aspect of your career to seek guidance— far from it. But out of consideration for your mentor’s valuable time and energy, you should evaluate whether you’re truly in a place where they can help you and where you’re willing to put in the time to grow.
Set goals and expectations.
What do you want to get out of working with a mentor? Knowing what you want will help you find someone well suited to your goals, rather than blindly accepting the first person you come across who seems like a good fit. For example, maybe you want to earn a promotion at work or improve your portfolio to apply to business school or start your own business. Look for someone who has done what you’re trying to do.
Use your existing network.
Chances are, you already know one or even several people who fit the bill of what you’re looking for in a mentor! Write a list of everyone you know who seems like they match your criteria. This could include past bosses, professors, or even people you’ve met in passing at networking events.
Ask someone you know to connect you.
Your network doesn’t just consist of people you already know personally. It also includes second-degree connections, people someone you know well could put you in touch with. So ask your friends, colleagues, parents, and acquaintances if they know anyone who might be a good match. A warm introduction, by email, phone, or in person, is always better than a cold one.
Search on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn allows you to search for mentors who work in your industry or dream job and narrow your search by things you share in common. For example, if you’re a college graduate, you can filter your search by other school alumni. You could also look for someone who has volunteered at the same nonprofit as you or with whom you already have a second-degree connection. Once you find someone, a polite LinkedIn message with a connection request will open the door to getting to know the person and gauging whether you might be a good fit.
Attend networking events, online or in person.
Networking events can feel forced and uncomfortable if you aren’t used to them. But they are an invaluable resource for people looking for professional guidance. Go in with an open mind and try to make friends, professional conversations. If you click with someone, you might connect with them on LinkedIn or ask if they’d like to join you for coffee at a later date. You never know which brief connection might turn into a special professional relationship later on.
Some other things to keep in mind
So you’ve got your eye on one or two people you’re interested in approaching to be your mentor. That’s great! Here are a few more things to keep in mind.
Most of us will have multiple careers and interests in our lifetimes, so it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to only one mentor! As long as you can manage your commitments, there’s nothing wrong with developing multiple mentor relationships.
Don’t come out of the blue and ask someone to commit to being your mentor. Instead, offer to treat them to coffee so that you can get to know them a little better. Once you know them a bit better, you can broach the subject of meeting with them more regularly.
Come prepared with questions and ideas for your mentor. You want to show them that you’re committed to doing the work of self-improvement and that you’ve already given it some thought.
Be respectful of their time and energy! It will only help your relationship if you’re courteous, punctual, and respectful.
Pass it on— look for a mentee of your own! You don’t have to be a C-suite executive to be a great mentor. All you need is to guide someone who is a few years behind you in their professional development. Pay the kindness forward!
A note from our CEO, Betsy Hauser, on the importance of mentorship in building her own successful business and career:
Sometimes I compare mentors to superheroes. It’s almost as if they can see into the future. They have a unique appreciation for what you’re building and doing. If I tell someone at a Fortune 500 company a big win I had, they may nod their head, but if I tell a successful entrepreneur, they are like, “WOW”--they know what went into that.
I think it’s important to have mentors at different stages. For example, one of my mentors is two decades ahead of me, while another is only five years my senior. These are the folks that I can call on for anything. Most often, it’s just to be honest when they have the experience I don’t. There are a lot of things that people don’t tell you about entrepreneurship. There are a lot of challenging moments you shoulder yourself--like when people leave, you have employee issues, litigation, tough reviews, or when you’re worried about cash. Those are the moments that I needed guidance and friendship, and my mentors are a few cherished people who offered me just that. As a CEO, things happen all of the time that the employees never see. It’s my job to make sure that they don’t see them and that things keep moving forward.
On the other side of the equation, I have friends who started businesses a year or two after me, that I would consider myself a mentor for. We’re all learning from each other. I’ve seen things that they haven’t seen yet. For example, I called one of them last week and asked her if she’s registered as a woman-owned company yet and explained the benefits of registering. That helped her to land two new clients.
Best of luck with your new mentor!