Proactively finding a mentor is one of the most powerful things you can do to establish yourself in a new career or develop yourself within it. Research shows that particularly for women in leadership in tech, science and education this can make the biggest difference in breaking through to senior leadership roles.
My first mentor came in the form of a commissioning editor who I’d reached out to ask for advice on breaking into radio journalism, and his guidance and care about my career spurred me on to take risks and go for the roles I wanted to, as well as close skills gaps. A few years after we first met, I was looking for a new role. I reconnected with him and by this time he had moved abroad. He invited me to be interviewed for a production role in the radio station he headed up.
Our mentoring relationship became close. He advised me. I put that into practice and updated him at regular intervals about what I was up to. And, I believe he derived a lot of personal satisfaction from seeing me grow as a broadcaster.
A conversation with a client this week who is completing her MA and who has her sights on working for the UN naturally led to a conversation about her finding a mentor… which in turn inspired me to blog on how to find the right mentor for you and make it work.
What to look for
A mentor is different from a coach. They usually are a role model or thought leader in your field, who inspires you. They may be senior in an organisation you aspire to work for. They certainly have travelled a career path that is exciting to you and may be exceedingly competitive to get into and progress within. They will have strengths and skills that you want to learn. These could be leadership skills, technical skills or skills to do with self-promotion and visibility or navigating office politics. They may also be very well connected with large “loose” connections with people across and indeed outside of their field which you would like to tap into.
So, the place to start is by asking yourself, “What do I want in my mentor?” and “What are my goals in seeking one out?”
Thinking about senior people in your organisation who you think “walk the talk” – whether that’s your Head of Department or someone from elsewhere in your organisation that might offer a broader view is a good place to start.
Also, consider the thought leaders that you see interviewed in your trade or national press, that sit on panel discussions and industry conferences that you have attended, or those that are active on twitter, LinkedIn and other places who inspire you.
How to find and reach out to them
This will depend on whether you are seeking someone internal or external.
If internal you will have access to the internal email directory. You can email them directly or sound out someone who works with them first about the best way to approach them.
If external, find their social media accounts and start following their posts. Like them. Comment on them. Eventually you may wish to PM them. Do this over several weeks though because you don’t want to come on too stalkerish!
Your message will be simple.
- What you have been doing
- Your career and skills development goals
- Asking if they would be willing to meet you for some advice or guidance on your goals
It is up to you whether you state upfront that you are looking for a mentor. My view is that you probably want to meet the person and see if there is connection between you and to take away the action points and implement them, at which point you have a reason to loop back with an update and develop the relationship if you would like to. I never used the word “mentor” with my first one. It was always informal but none the less it had all the characteristics of a mentor relationship.
What about formal mentoring schemes?
If your company has these – and they can come in all types now including “reverse mentoring” where younger employees mentor senior ones and in doing so provide a real perspective that might otherwise be lost, then go for it.
It is also worth Googling “mentoring” plus your field to see if there are industry wide schemes already available. These can be excellent and if there are none for your needs, you may be inspired as one of my clients in the museum field did, to create her own network for BAME museum professionals.
Why would they meet me? They’re busy and what value do I have to give?
This is a question I’m often asked by clients.
First up, you are valuable. As a human being you have immeasurable value and that value is independent of how junior or senior you are. Get over your playing small and believe in yourself.
Secondly, recognise that some senior people really do want to give back. They have “made it” and have enjoyed a fantastic career. They want to share their wisdom with younger people who they see a bit of themselves in. Someone who has goals and aspirations and is willing to learn, has that growth mindset and hunger to learn. I asked Mike my first mentor at our first meeting, “You must get requests like mine to meet all the time. Why did you make time for me?”. He told me, “No man is an island. I didn’t get to here without people helping me along the way”.
Thirdly, when you meet (whether that’s virtually or in person) stick to the time you asked for, ask interesting questions and really listen and enjoy their company. Your warmth and positivity makes for a great meeting for your intended mentor, and you will lift their day.
Wondering about whether you should find a mentor or get a coach, and what the differences are? Get in touch to share your career aspirations and we’ll have a conversation about which is better or whether it’s a “both/and”.