Finding a Professional Mentor

This is a guest post written by Sr. Human Resources Professional, Kathie Elliott.

Are you looking for a mentor to help you develop your professional skills? Last month, we discussed types of mentoring relationships. Finding the right mentor can make a big difference in your career. Once you find a potential mentor, how should you approach them?

The nature of mentorships presumes there is already some sort of professional relationship between the parties. If that is true for your chosen mentor, you could begin by asking them if they are open to serving as a sounding board for you as needed when specific issues arise. Or you could arrange a time to talk with them about your specific learning objectives and goals. In either case, be sure to explain the skills and abilities they have that you admire, why you think they would be a great mentor for you AND what you think the benefits of mentoring you might be. 

If you opt for a formal mentor arrangement, be sure to agree on what is expected of both participants, such as frequency and length of meetings, types of issues or skills to work on, and how long you commit to work together. You can always agree to continue, but many mentors would like to have a planned end date.

Turning a current professional relationship into a mentorship could begin with short situation-specific conversations. Great ice breakers might include:

  • “How have you handled a situation like _________ in the past?”
  • “What would you say to someone who wanted to __________?”
  • “Would you be willing to offer me feedback on _        __?”
  • “Would you tell me about a time you were faced with _________?” 

If you have identified a mentor, but you don’t already know one another, you can’t be sure whether they would be a good fit or interested in mentoring you. In this case, you could start first by inviting them to meet with you to discuss a specific issue or question. They’re more likely to want to meet with you if you have shared contacts or interests. Contacts can help make introductions, whereas interests give you a chance to meet this person under different circumstances. If you keep the parameters and commitment well-defined, neither of you will feel pressured to commit to anything beyond an initial meeting. If that meeting goes well, you can decide whether to request another meeting.

Occasionally, mentees reach out to someone in their reporting line for mentorship, but this can create multiple highly-sensitive issues. It may give the appearance of a conflict of interest, or it may not be a feasible time commitment for them to make to just one member of their staff. In either case, it puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to decline your request.  Instead, consider looking for a mentor in another unit of the organization who can offer you a unique point-of-view. And don’t underestimate the value of a mentor outside your organization; they may open a new world of insights and opportunities!

Regardless of who you choose to approach to mentor you, be sure to thank them for their time and advice. And remember, the point of mentorship is to continue to learn and grow as a professional while at the same time become someone with knowledge and skills that others (even those more experienced than you) can learn from.