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Why Everyone Needs A Career Mentor

Choose a Career Mentor

What do Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? Aside from being famous entrepreneurs with billion-dollar businesses, they all credit career mentors with playing a role in their success. Whether you’re a tech innovator, a college grad, a midlife career changer, or feel stalled in an industry you love, finding and fostering a mentor relationship can give your career track the boost it needs.    

A study by Sun Microsystems found career guidance benefits both mentee and mentor. The 2006 research study followed 1,000 employees of the tech company for five years, some of whom participated in the company’s mentor program and others of whom did not. The data showed 25% of the mentored employees saw a salary increase. For the mentors themselves, 28% saw a salary increase, compared to a 5% increase among those who weren’t mentors. Additionally, promotion and retention rates were higher for both mentors and mentees in the program than for those who did not participate.1

This was a company mentorship program, but there are great benefits to seeking out formal or informal career mentor relationships. Within an organization, mentors can help you adjust quickly to company culture and accelerate your learning curve, so you can make decisions and pursue opportunities with insight and confidence. Outside of your company, you can find someone with years of experience in the industry to help guide you, clarify career goals, and even prod you beyond your comfort zone.

It’s the start of a new year, a time for taking stock and looking ahead, and January is National Mentoring Month to boot. Take the opportunity to find a mentor with the wisdom to help you learn, grow, and make strides in your career. Here are some tips to get you started: 

10 Tips to Finding a Career Mentor

  1. Look Nearby — Do you routinely ask a more seasoned co-worker for advice when issues arise? Does a higher-up let you share ideas about future projects when you pass them in the hall? Do you find yourself chatting with a person you admire at professional association meetings? If the answer to any of these is yes, and the person listens attentively and responds with sound counsel — you've already got a mentor. If you’re getting what you need from your existing interactions, simply sustain the relationship as is, being careful not to impose upon this person’s generosity. If you would benefit from more time with him or her, formally ask that person to meet with you periodically to field questions about the industry and your career trajectory.

  2. Look Further Afield — There isn’t always a mentor within your company who is willing to take on the role, or who is a good fit for you. Reach out to people in your social networks and let them know you are seeking a mentor. Even if a respected person in your field can’t mentor you, they may recommend someone who can. Attend networking cocktail hours and industry conferences whenever you can. Share what excites you about work, what you hope to learn and accomplish in the future, ask questions, listen to other people’s stories, get to know them. If you hit it off with someone who inspires you, and whose work and character you respect, ask them whether they would consider answering further questions over coffee.

  3. Be Patient — Chances are some people won’t have the time or the interest to become your mentor. Don’t take it personally. Accept any declines graciously and continue your search for someone who wants to invest time and attention in your career. Also, don’t spring the mentor question the moment you meet someone whose career you emulate. Find out if you have mutual connections, get to know them, and ask them to mentor you only after you’ve established a rapport. The most beneficial mentor relationships are those that develop organically over time.

  4. Be Clear — It’s important to clarify to yourself and to your mentor what you expect from the relationship. Whether you want them to act as a sounding board for ideas, answer questions regularly by email, or commit to meeting with you a few hours every quarter — let them know. They will appreciate your being upfront and will let you know if they can commit. Then be sure to respect the parameters you and your mentor have set. If you want to change them as your relationship grows, wait until a pre-scheduled meeting to suggest a new plan.

  5. Have More Than One Mentor — One person within your company or within your industry isn’t likely to have all the answers. People have different strengths. One of your mentors may help you get the most out of networking opportunities, while another may direct you toward important training you need to stay competitive in your industry. Even if you have a mentor within your organization, it’s a good idea to have an outside mentor who can offer different perspectives on your industry.

  6. Be Honest — Share with your mentor the trickier situations you face—ethical issues, problems with a manager, work-related interpersonal difficulties. For this reason, it’s preferable that your mentor is not an immediate supervisor. You need to feel comfortable hashing out your doubts, concerns, and aspirations without worry. Conversely, when your mentor shares confidential stories about their work experiences to help you, you must be completely trustworthy with the sensitive information they have shared.

  7. Fulfill Expectations — Above all, this is a professional relationship. If your mentor has asked you to make new contacts or learn a new skill by your next meeting, be sure you accomplish those tasks. This individual is giving their time and energy to you because they see promise in you and have a desire to help. Respect their efforts by giving your all to your side of the mentorship.

  8. Welcome Criticism — Change and growth don’t happen without some mistakes along the way. Mentors can be especially helpful when your career track hits inevitable bumps. Of course, you want your mentor to be your cheerleader, but constructive criticism may be the most important thing they can offer you. In a mentorship built on mutual respect, the sole aim of these critiques is to help you reach your goals.

  9. Offer Updates — Your mentor wants to know their time and advice has an impact. Share your successes. And be sure to thank them for their role in your accomplishments.

  10. Don’t Worry — If you don’t have the guidance of a formal mentor now, it’s okay. There are always people to learn from. Observe the behavior and decisions of a supervisor you admire. Attend more professional association meetings where networking, sharing, and discussing your industry is part of the event. Put yourself forward for projects that test your skills and extend your comfort zone. Sometimes a single conversation can shift your career arc. Stay open and attentive to opportunities to learn more about your field within your office and beyond its walls, and you’ll soon find there are mentors all around you.



1 Quast, Lisa. “How Becoming a Mentor Can Boost Your Career.” Forbes. Web. 31 Oct 2011.

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