Time and again, HSF alumni give a lot of credit to mentors for their academic and career success. It’s a well established fact that students and professionals benefit from having a mentor in many ways, including improved skills, increased self-confidence, greater networking access, and better goal setting and direction. In fact, mentors are so valued these days some protégés have more than one.
Finding a Mentor. Many companies, organizations, and universities have formal mentoring programs in place, so the company you work for or your alma mater are good places to start in your search. These programs are structured to match you with a mentor whose experience and skills are complementary with yours, who will have the time for a long-term commitment, and who are empathetic and willing to share.
You can also reach out to someone on your own, someone you admire and respect at work or anywhere else in your networking pool. HSF’s Alumni Network would be a great resource as are professional associations, particularly if you’re interested in a shorter-term relationship. Try to select someone who’s in the same or similar job function, but also make sure it’s someone who can help you reach your career goals. Your mentor’s personality counts, too. Ask around to find out how your prospective mentor communicates with others. Some mentoring relationships do well if the mentor and mentee are quite different in personal and communication styles. More often, however, compatibility helps the relationship be successful.
You should take some time to evaluate what you want to gain from a mentoring relationship. Do you want to develop new skills? Do you need to build self-confidence? Are you looking for a role model or someone who can connect you to others in your field? Be honest with yourself … the more open you are about what you’re looking for the more likely you’ll find a mentor to fill the bill.
Working With a Mentor. In a professional setting, a mentor can help you navigate your company’s culture and politics, help you set a career plan, assess your strengths and weaknesses, and cope with workplace issues, if they arise. If you are a student, a mentor can give you a view into the real-world aspects of a career choice, introduce you to people in that career, and help you connect textbook learning with on-the-job perspectives. Some mentors invite students to intern with them in the workplace to get first-hand experience in a given career before they make a final decision.
Understand that mentors need to set boundaries, so it’s a good idea in the first few meetings to set expectations in terms of how often and how you will communicate and meet with each other. If it’s a professional relationship, set goals and milestones so you can measure the value. You should also try to determine the duration of the relationship so you don’t overburden your mentor. Importantly, show gratitude. While most mentors are helping because they want to give back and get pleasure from being needed, you should routinely show them how much you appreciate their help. Pay for a lunch or dinner, bring flowers for their office, sing your mentor’s praises to her boss, or reward him with a token gift.
Next month, we’ll discuss the benefits of being a mentor.