Many finding early career success today tell us they first found something that turns out to more important than they imagined: a mentor.
Mentors shorten learning curves, improve our focus and help us reflect on wins and absorb the lessons learned from losses. They, even if they can’t always helps us avoid critical mistakes, help us recover quickly.
So how do you find a mentor… and build what could hugely beneficial relationship that gets your career off to a great start?
Exhibit Passion and Potential
There are natural mentors — those who instinctively help others succeed. They’re specifically drawn to those who exhibit passion, potential – and ultimately, confidence. They invest in those who display something special; the people they know are worth their time and energy.
You can’t be a wallflower and expect a mentor to reach out to you. Stick your neck out there, even if it gets chopped off the first couple of times. Eventually, the best match for your career goals and ambitions will surface – perhaps several.
Networking, Social and Old School
Due to the social nature of mentoring, many potential mentors migrate toward networking. Social media has opened doors that didn’t exist a few years ago, and many of us enjoy long-distance mentor relationships. Social networking, especially Twitter, is a buzz of activity for mentors.
Others who thrive on face-to-face interaction focus on local mentors through the local “old school” networking groups; think industry associations, alumni groups and the local chamber of commerce.
Many of us enjoy both, as the benefits from each are unique to the mentor-mentee process. Whether virtually or in person, it takes a bit of nerve to walk through a room full of people you don’t know and introduce yourself – you’ll find it’s well worth the effort.
Bonus: in addition to the guidance they provide, many mentors can open significant doors through their personal networks. Before that happens, you’ll need to show you can effectively and professionally handle their referrals. After all, their personal reputation is at stake.
Are you “Coachable”?
A mentor is, almost by definition, a busy person. A mentor isn’t going to invest time in a person they don’t feel is coachable. In other words, are you able to set ego, agenda and pride aside and listen? Really listen?
Don’t be surprised if a mentor tells you something along the lines of “you’re not thinking this out”, “this may not be the basket for your eggs”, or a simple “No” (as in, “No, I don’t think that is the best approach…”)
The best mentors don’t tell us what we want to hear – through effective communication they tell us what we need to hear. That can be difficult, and how you react may determine how long that mentor relationship exists.
Mentors Bet on the Jockey (Not the Horse)
Many of the mentor relationships that will mean the most to you last well beyond any one specific project. The reason is simple: the mentor’s interest is almost always person-to-person, rather than focused on the venture that has your immediate attention.
It is you they are willing to help. Remain worthy, no matter what you are currently working on.
Look to Your Existing Network First
Finally, when you’re ready to build a relationship with a mentor… be aware that the best possible mentor candidate might already exist in your life.
A relative, college professor you might remember as influential, or perhaps a local business person, or someone you already know through social media? Also, many of your past volunteer positions and internships might be a source of highly beneficial mentor relationships. Who do you know, already, that could be a mentor?
Mentors are not that easy to find… but are out there, ready to help. The key: deliberately begin the work required to find yours!