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How to find the perfect professional mentor

Five questions to ask yourself when seeking a career mentor.

Looking for a career mentor? Ask yourself these five questions first.

You hear a lot about the importance of finding a mentor to help you develop professionally and advance in your career, but finding a mentor and figuring out how to keep the relationship going is a whole different ballgame. While it's best to seek a mentor from your current network of connections rather than asking someone you don't already know, determining who that should be requires some thought.

These are a few important questions to ask yourself:

1. What are you hoping to get out of the relationship?
Perhaps you are:

  • Facing a workplace challenge and would appreciate some advice on how to handle it
  • Hoping to learn from an expert about industry trends and the future of your profession
  • Seeking input about your own professional development plan

These are just a few examples of goals you may have going into this process, but establishing what you are hoping to learn or gain is an important step toward a mutually beneficial relationship.

And speaking of "mutually beneficial," you should also consider what you can add to the relationship. How can you be respectful of their valuable time and make your experience together an advantageous one for both of you?

2. Who do you know?
Brainstorm for a bit and consider the professional people in your network. This includes (but is not limited to) co-workers, former classmates, colleagues within your industry and community members. Jot down the names of people who you know really enjoy their work—and whose work you admire. Who would guide, motivate and teach you? Who would you like to get know better?

3. Who do you look up to?
Think about who you know within your industry or profession that is at least a few steps ahead of you in terms of career progression. Look to individuals who do great work and are well-respected within the field. Keep in mind that while you are seeking a mentor who has successfully paved the way for themselves, you also want to find someone who will give you constructive criticism and honest feedback about your own unique path.

4. Are there already formal mentor programs in place?
Many companies now offer mentor programs for new professionals. Check with your HR department to see if this is an option for you. Alternatively, many professional associations also feature mentor programs, connecting new and experienced professionals together initially at conferences. These are great ways to easily tap into a network of willing participants and get matched to someone who is a good fit to mentor you.

5. Now what?
There's no need to formally ask, "Will you be my mentor?" That can be awkward for everyone involved. If you've done your homework, reached out to connect with the right people and developed a valid relationship, the mentorship will begin more organically. So how do you develop that relationship? Start by asking to set up a coffee meeting or get together for lunch every so often.

Showcase your enthusiasm for your work and your eagerness to learn and grow. Ask questions and get advice about how you can improve or look at things differently.

And, as mentioned earlier, consider what you can bring to the table too, so the relationship is not you solely taking information and giving nothing in return. Perhaps you can also provide a fresh perspective or share recent articles that are relevant? Maybe you have technological skills or knowledge about a specific topic that the mentor could use help with?

Stay in touch and continue to meet regularly over time. Soon enough, likely without even realizing it, you'll find that you've got yourself a mentor—and a great connection for life.

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