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March 31, 2009

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Mentors not only help you out in a pinch, but they also encourage you and teach you.

Depending on your company, a mentor might be assigned to you as part of your orientation. These relationships, however, do not always work out. Rather than mentoring you, they often end up providing you with just training plans. If your company does not offer mentor assignments or your assigned mentor fails to fulfill his/her responsibilities, you will have to find one by yourself.

Many companies offer "buddies," who are professionals slightly more experienced than you and can offer assistance in the day-to-day details, like how to fill out an expense sheet. Often, you will find these buddies as good sources of first line mentors. They usually provide a narrower degree of assistance, but they make excellent sounding boards, generally have more time for you than a more experienced manager, and are very eager to help.

To find strong mentors, you must be proactive most of the time, though, in some cases, mentoring relationships form naturally. First, set your criteria for what you want in a mentor.

Once you know your needs in a mentoring relationship, set out to identify where you can find a suitable mentor. Good sources of mentors include your management team, whether you report to them directly or not (there are advantages and disadvantages to both) and management teams from other lines of business. Also, look in your industry associations, online communities (there are now mentoring services on the Internet), your clergy and/or congregation, and your professors.

Your last step in finding a mentor is the lengthiest in the process: find ways to form relationships with people you identified as potential mentors. Observe them - how they interact with others, how well they think and act under pressure, how well they listen and communicate. If you selected people in your direct line of management, get to know them on the job. Determine if you can work for them and confide in them for counseling. Assess their trustworthiness, in whatever context you know them. Develop a relationship to test the chemistry between you.

When you feel comfortable with your relationships with those you want to approach as mentors, ask them for a mentoring relationship. While most people gladly accept, not everyone is enthusiastic about mentoring. For different reasons, people often do not wish to mentor - whether it be because of their schedules or because of negative past experiences, or whatnot. So, if someone denies your request, then thank him or her graciously. Underscore you still want to maintain a strong working relationship with him or her.

A last word of advice - know that your mentor does not necessarily equate as a friend. Some mentors prefer to keep mentoring relationships separate from personal and/or professional friendships. In fact, you might agree it is better to keep the relationship's capacity strictly official for objectivity's sake.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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