Key to Finding Mentors: Begin With the End in Mind

MentoringEveryone knows they should have a mentor… but many don’t know how to find one, or the right one.

Mentors come in many flavors and hold different monikers, but the two common traits they should all possess is a willingness to give unbiased advice and expertise in the specific areas you are looking to improve.

Before you can start your hunt for the perfect mentor or advisors, career experts advise to do a little soul searching to pinpoint your weaknesses and to determine your goals. What is your specific endgame… and how can the mentor help you most?

“You have to be clear in what you are asking for,” Julie Bauke, career strategist, president of The Bauke Group, and author of Stop Peeing on our Shoes: Avoiding the 7 Mistakes that Screw Up your Job Search. “You can’t just say, ‘I want to get to the top of this company… can you mentor me?’”

Finding the right mentor can take a bit of detective work, especially if you are new to a company. Sure the C-level executive would be the ideal mentor, but since that may not be a realistic option (unless you are high-up yourself) it’s a good idea to observe people above you and focus on those who do their job well.

“I wouldn’t reach out to a stranger,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners – Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. “I wouldn’t go up to the CEO unless I had a good relationship” with him or her already.

Ruhl says to take the company culture into account when choosing a mentor. If it’s a very relaxed structure you may be able to go very high-up when targeting a mentor. If it’s a rigid company structure, however, you may want to start by going only one level above you. Also important: choosing someone that others within the organization admire and respect. The worst thing you could do, in many situations, is align yourself with someone that has no respect within the company.

Once you’ve pinpointed your potential mentor or mentors, come up with a good reason why you want that person to advise you. For instance:

  • If you admire how that person handles herself in a meeting, then ask her for tips on giving presentations
  • If you want to improve your customer relations skills, compliment your potential mentor on his knack for dealing with customers
  • When it is time to improve your written communication skills, seek out the person that has an excellent reputation for clear, concise writing

“You have to say, ‘the reason I am hoping you’ll mentor me in this one area of my career is because I love the way you handle yourself,’” says Bauke. “It’s easy for them to say yes because there’s something you admire about them.” By providing specifics, you are giving the mentor a path for success instead of making it feel like work for them, she says.

Not one person is going to give you everything you need, which is why career experts say you should try to have more than one mentor. Creating a team of advisors with expertise in different aspects of your career is the best way to get well-rounded advice and guidance. It also reduces the burden on the mentors, and if it doesn’t work out with one mentor you’ll have others to use as sounding boards.

It’s also important to set expectations ahead of time in terms of how the mentorship will go. For instance, will it be something formal where you meet every other week for a specific amount of time, or will it be informal where you can email or call the person when you need advice?

While most people think of mentorships as an older person mentoring a younger one, it’s becoming common to see the reverse going on. “Younger professionals can be just as informational as the older workforce,” especially in areas of technology, says Ruhl.  “It’s become a two-way street.”

By beginning the end – your specific goals and areas of improvement – in mind, you are well on your way to finding valuable mentors!






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Donna-FulscaldoAbout the Author: Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist who writes for numerous online publications including,,, and As a personal finance reporter, Donna provides invaluable advice on everything from saving money to landing a dream job. She also writes a weekly column for focused on technology for small businesses. Previously, Donna was an equities reporter for Dow Jones Newswires and a special contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Through the Glassdoor Blog, Donna provides tips on how to find a job and, more importantly, to keep it. Follow Donna on Twitter!



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