There’s often only so far your own opinion can take you. Your resume reads brilliantly, your experience diverse and if you do say so yourself you’re on the path to career heights. But navigating the office landscape, whether its cubicle after cubicle or construction sites, a little outside perspective is always a benefit. Enter another requisite to success, the mentor.
Before you go confronting people in the lobby or googling private emails, ask yourself why you want a mentor. Is it to better yourself? To synthesise your skills into practice? Or just to tick a box? If it’s anything less than wanting to grow, then look no further. Mentoring will be of no use to you. It’s a practice, a relationship, even a discipline.
Mentoring is misrepresented as an angel investor bestowing their wisdom upon younglings and then opening every door for them along the way. In reality it’s not so lopsided, and to be a little clinical it’s a transaction. You get what you give and if you’re ready to pour yourself into the experience, you’ll collect on that investment ten-fold. So stop looking so hard and look smart instead.
Find someone you aspire to be like
If you haven’t mapped out your goals, then seeking out a mentor is a step too far. Finding a compatible candidate for the mentoring relationship rests on you being self assured. Lost completely? Look to yourself first, unfortunately no one can make those big career decisions for you.
Once you’ve nailed down your aspirations, start looking for someone within that path. Don’t go too niche, it’s likely the people you select will be time-poor or mentoring another. LinkedIn is a solid place to start, look for those who have at least few years on you for perspective. If you’re going to invest your time and effort why not into someone who you can learn from extensively. Go by position then by company to whittle down a field of suitors. A handful is best; you don’t want to be sending out blanked emails that read as mass produced.
Look for someone who contributes outside work too, and observe their progression. Their entry level job, their first volunteer position, it all pieces together towards their success. The aim is never to mimic or copy, instead it’s to carve your own path with their journey in mind.
Research the person and start small
Have qualms about being perceived as a stalker? On the hunt for a mentor, you’ll just have to pop this one to the side. Investigating and research involves a little deeper dig. That’s not to say their address is of use, it’s not. But what’s available online in terms of career info is extensive. LinkedIn a poster board of successes and learnings.
Take a careful read of their endorsements, not only will you see the gaps in your skills and theirs, but you can observe their engagement. Are their endorsements high? Are the referrals glowing? From a read of both you’ll be able to tell if they’re relevant to you.
Don’t approach the CEO of Coca Cola, although your brazen attempt may be taken well, in all likeliness it will not. You want to make the most of this experience, you need someone with at least a little time. Instead of the CEO look for execs, managers or ex-employees. If it’s a company in particular you want to learn from, ex-employees can be the most telling. Start small to medium on your search, it’s better to cultivate a stronger relationship rather than an empty network connection.
Take the plunge and ask
Most mentors are able leaders, they’re eager to share their successes and failures. And without ego stroking, finding a leader equipped to advise you can be tricky. There’s no easy way to ask, but making your presence felt before hand is a decent start. Like their social media posts, follow then on LinkedIn, join their mailing list, do whatever you can to show interest. This will make the proposal seem a lot more two way. If they invest their time in you, you have shown you’re already reciprocating time interested in them.
Because of this misconception, mentoring and mentorship can be taken as a bit of an empty buzz word. A selfish attempt to plug yourself. Skip the labels and instead offer as much as you can to the relationship, through time and thoughts. Where you can ask for advice, or even better offer your time. The advice will come if you show yourself as indispensable
Move forward with restraint and follow up
Start off slow, a coffee catch-up, an email chain and build from there. There is no point in attempting a complete career overhaul with your mentor at the helm. They don’t even know you yet. Make the relationship authentic and treat your time with them as scheduled. Sure life happens, but if they’re making the allocation for you, you owe them your presence.
Follow up, stay in touch and keep yourself updated.
Let the relationship evolve organically
Quarterly will turn to monthly and so forth, don’t push it and take every opportunity as it comes. If things are going too slow for you, then extend yourself beyond the mentorship. Look for short courses, evening networking events and get yourself out there. Investing in yourself will do wonders.
Enjoy the challenge
It’s no quick fix, this isn’t a high school career adviser. This an ongoing networking exercise, so have your game face on and be ready to deal with things on the fly. Your contribution will be met with a wealth of knowledge if you give it your all.