Finding a Mentor

Monday, October 7, 2013 - 07:41

By Leon Gettler

Mentors are an important source of information, support and development. But in many workplaces, they are not formalised positions, leaving it up to the individual to find one. Where do you look?

Recruitment specialists at CareerCast say people should find out what’s available at work.

“While your immediate supervisor should be a logical choice for a professional mentor, they may not always be the best one. Before you latch onto your boss, take a look at the political climate in your department. Will your co-workers be upset if your manager becomes your personal mentor? Is your manager someone who has respect and contacts throughout the company? If your answer is “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second one, then your boss has the qualities of a good professional mentor. Should your boss not be a good fit, you might instead look for a professional mentor a couple of levels higher up the career ladder.

“This person can be affiliated with your industry, or work in a completely different one. A financial analyst who has a mentor in sales, for example, may gain a perspective that another numbers person wouldn’t have. Other great places to find a professional mentor are the community and fraternal organisations you’d typically use in networking for a job. Churches, Chambers of Commerce, professional organisations representing your industry, non-profit committees, alumni groups, political parties, conventions, workshops, newspaper articles, and professors from local colleges are all excellent resources for finding a professional mentor.”

Kerry Hannon at Forbes says one of the first things people should do is check with their Human Resources department to see whether the workplace actually offers a mentoring program. Another idea is to look outside the office. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a “business” or “workplace” relationship. A mentor can come from an association you belong to or they can come from activities you’re involved in. She also advises people to use LinkedIn, you never know what connections that can throw up. You might also consider a mentor younger than you, someone who can give you insights into the latest trends and technology.

Pamela Craig at Bloomberg recommends people stay as flexible and as loose as possible. The person you have chosen, she says, mightn’t work out so you just move on.

“Don’t limit yourself to one person,’’ Craig says. “Learn from all the people you’ve chosen. Figure out which ones are the best listeners and which are good at giving advice that is practical and helpful. You might look to one for client experiences, to another for industry wisdom, and yet another for personal scenarios.”

Kathy Kram, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at Boston University School of Management, concurs and told that people shouldn’t rely on just one mentor. That’s the equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket.

“I think people really ought to think in terms of multiple mentors instead of just one,” she says.

Jennifer Parris at the Working Mother site advises people to focus very hard on building the relationship. “Keep in mind that making a true connection can take some time. It might even mean that you have to speak to various people before establishing a genuine connection with a potential mentor. Look for things you have in common besides work—maybe you both share a fiery love of flamenco music or even spicy tuna rolls. After all, a mentor is not only going to help offer you workplace guidance, such as giving you tips on how to get a remote job but will also be a friend to you as you navigate the next steps in your career.”