How to Find and Utilize a Great Career Mentor

by Vault Careers | October 26, 2011

In today's competitive work environment it may make sense for young professionals to seek out a long-term career mentor to help them make the most of their potential and guide them in their field.  Here are the best ways to find mentors and what to do to get the most out of them:

1. Set goals

Before choosing a career mentor, young professionals should determine what their long term goals are and how a more experienced mentor can help. A mentor should help them develop both their technical and so-called "soft skills" including communications and problem solving techniques that will help them advance in their current career or find a better job. 

While it may be a good idea to choose a mentor with the same shared values, executive consultant Deb Busser told CBS Moneywatch that younger workers should look for a mentor who will bring a different perspective on how to achieve their long-term goals.

"Push yourself out of your comfort zone to work with someone who can bring a fresh viewpoint to your relationship," Busser noted.

Think about this carefully, because it's always nice to get advice from multiple sources, but having multiple mentors doesn't make as much sense.  One person will provide you with a clearer picture of how you should move along your career path.  More than one mentor could muddy the waters a bit with contradicting advice.  Don't rush right in.  Test the waters and see who you feel will guide you the most toward your goals. 

2. Look at the big picture

A great career mentor is also someone who is well-connected in their field and who can help introduce their protege to important connections.

Scott Gerber, founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, told Moneywatch that in order for a younger worker to find a high-profile mentor, he or she should look for someone with a proven track record and offer to help them with something first.

"Always find ways to offer assistance to individuals - whether it’s by offering them advice from your expertise, free products and services, a way for their business to increase revenues by working with you, or your time for their projects and personal areas of interest - in order to become useful to them," Gerber added.

3. Go beyond the business

Young professionals should always look for a mentor who works outside of their own company. While a worker first starting out may view their boss as a mentor, he or should needs to be able to talk to someone about their failures and successes who can help them grow beyond their current job. Your mentor will help you overcome your failures without getting angry over how those failures might affect his bottom line.  Also, a mentor outside your current company opens up your networking potential.  When your mentor feels you might be ready, he might introduce you to colleagues and contacts who can help you advance your career at a new company.  Your current boss won't offer you the same opportunities. 

4. Evaluate

Once a protege has picked his or her mentor, they should make sure they get the most out of the relationship by through consistent evaluations. Organizational therapist Dr. Katharine Hansen said that a protege will know their mentor is working when they offer regular feedback and encourages them to grow.  That feedback should be constructive and will help you become a better worker.  You learn more from your mistakes, and a mentor should help you overcome them. 

--Published courtest of Brafton (Additional Material by Jon Minners, Vault.com)

Filed Under: Job Search | Networking | Workplace Issues


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