Accelerating your career will take much more than your smarts. You will need sponsors who can speak on your behalf in rooms you do not have access to. You will also need a number of mentors who will take the time to teach and guide you in a more hands-on approach. Thinking that you can do things on your own is a serious career-limiting move that will hamper your growth. There is no rule that says you can have only one mentor. In fact, it will be to your advantage to have a few mentor relationships that can help you grow in different areas of your personal and professional life. Before you start your search for a mentor, consider the following.
Be clear about why you want a mentor. Write down all the reasons you need a mentor and be able to articulate them. Think about what you would like to gain from the relationship.
Describe who your ideal mentor would be. Take into consideration the person’s experience, qualifications, and current position. Make a list of those qualities.
Are you committed? In most cases, people are generous and will give of their time and talents. It is imperative, however, that you demonstrate your commitment and respect your mentor’s time. Show up when you are supposed to, complete any assignments, follow up, and always remember to say “thank you.”
Mentors are not perfect. They are regular people willing to be a resource to help you learn. Your mentor can advise you, but making decisions should always be your responsibility.
Make a list of people who might fit your criteria. We all would like a high-profile person as a mentor, but sometimes the best mentors are not high-profile people. Don’t get star-struck. Start with a dedicated, lesser known person who is genuinely interested in your improvement.
Tell a few trusted people you are searching for a mentor. If you see someone you think might fit your description of the ideal person, invite him or her to coffee or schedule an informational interview. During your meeting, ask that person if it’s acceptable for you to call occasionally for advice. Most people will say “yes,” but if the person sounds hesitant, they could be uninterested or have too many other time commitments. Don’t take it personally. Thank the person for their time and move on to the next person on your list. If the person says “yes,” great.
Look at your school, company and community. Find out if your company/school has a formal mentoring program. Ifso, check to see if there are any prerequisites.
Don’t be a leech. Although your mentor is supposed to help you, don’t suck them dry of their time, talents, and resources. Be prepared, enthusiastic, and show you understand and appreciate their time and information.
Karen Hinds is a leadership and diversity and inclusion expert. She used her experience in building talent pipelines for financial services companies to launch her company over 20 years ago. Workplace Success Group is a strategic, talent development firm that works with organizations to cultivate and retain their next generation of leaders.