Finding a Good Mentor: What You Need to Know

By Alicia Geigel on August 27, 2020

Whether you are just entering the workforce or have been in a specific working field for years, there is always room to improve your skills and open yourself to the advice of an expert. Though you may think of yourself as someone who doesn’t need to learn or that you have life figured out, all of us can benefit from being mentored, whether it be in our career path or life in general.

Mentorship can benefit you in several different ways, as it can enhance your life, facilitate growth in your career path, spark personal development, and much more. Maybe you feel as if your work or job position is stagnant and want to advance, or perhaps you’re looking for ways to improve your self in all areas of your life- regardless of the need, a mentor is perfect for these types of issues.

Recognizing that you want or need a mentor is one thing, but finding a good mentor can be overwhelming and stressful if you don’t know how to go about it. Are you someone trying to find a good mentor but don’t know where to start? Unsure of the benefits of having a good mentor? This comprehensive guide will give you all the information you need to know about finding a mentor and how one can enhance your life!

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What is a Mentor?

Oftentimes, people tend to think the titles “mentor” and “coach” are the same, and while they are similar in terms of what each entails, there is a definite difference between the two. While a coach typically offers some sort of developmental help, it is only for a short period of time. A mentorship, however, is more lengthy, according to F. John Reh of The Balance. He elaborates on this, writing, “Mentoring consists of a long-term relationship focused on supporting the growth and development of the mentee. The mentor becomes a source of wisdom, teaching, and support, but not someone who observes and advises on specific actions or behavioral changes in daily work.”

In other words, a mentor is a personal cheerleader, giving you insightful encouragement and advice on how to change your perspective on yourself, your job, your life, etc. With an understanding of what a mentor is and what a mentor does, let’s dive into the benefits of having a mentor, the qualities to look for in a good mentor, and how to find one!

Benefits of Having a Mentor

Networking: No matter what your field of work is, networking is an important component to expanding your career and broadening your contact pool. With a mentor, you not only benefit from the connection you have with him/her, but you also can benefit from their connections as well. While your mentor can help you with different kinds of problems, they can also lead you in the direction of colleagues, friends, or work acquaintances that can give you additional advice, expose you to work environments or careers, and help you build your connections.

Accountability: Whether it be in a professional environment or your personal life, there are always goals that we want to achieve. When we set goals by ourselves, it can be easy to fall back on those goals and become lackadaisical in regards to completing the goals. With a mentor, not only can he/she help you set short and long term goals, but they can also give you meaningful advice as to how to put your goals into action and accomplish them. By having a mentor, you can be held accountable for your flaws, your strengths, the things you want to change, and the goals you wish to accomplish!

Personal Development: Among the various benefits that a mentorship, perhaps the most beneficial aspect is the growth and personal development that you experience along the way. In a work atmosphere or simply in the broader aspects of your life, there should always be room for self-improvement, whether it be work skills, behavioral flaws/setbacks, or simply a bad mindset. In a blog post by Monster, they write, “Your mentor is the office equivalent of that friend who calls you out if you’re out of line. By telling you your strengths and your weaknesses, he or she will help you gain self-awareness, respect your colleagues more, and become a better team player. In short, they’ll help you build your character.”

Perspective: When struggling in a situation, whether it be work-related or personal, friends and family can be great sources to go to for meaningful advice. The only problem? Family and friends carry natural biases, which can lead them to give tips or advice based on how they feel about you or your relationship with them. While this advice can definitely be respected, a mentor’s perspective is much more objective and useful, which can give you clarity and a fresh, new perspective on how to solve even your most complicated issues. Don’t worry, giving mom a call doesn’t hurt too!

Problem Solving: No one likes handling a problem alone. In your work environment, or even in your personal life, tackling an overwhelming problem is never easy, especially if the problem involves someone you are close with (i.e. a boss, colleague, or spouse). Among the broad personal development growth, a mentor can help you solve problems in any realm by giving your mature, relevant, and appropriate advice for any situation. Sarah Price, a blog writer for Surf Careers further emphasizes this, saying, “Their experience and insight can stop you from making mistakes and can give you the answers rather than you having to waste valuable time and money working out the right way to handle the situation.”

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Qualities to Look For in a Good Mentor

When trying to find a good mentor, it can be easy to pick whatever person first comes your way. Ultimately in your search, you want to make sure your prospective mentor has these following qualities, as it will not only make the experience fulfilling for you but also for your mentor!

Expertise or Knowledge in Relevant Field: Though this is an obvious trait to look for, it is nonetheless an important one when finding a mentor that will bring the best out of you. You will want your prospective mentor to have a reasonable amount of expertise and knowledge in a field relevant to you and your work. Whether you are more the artsy type, or in a white-collar job, choosing a mentor with relevant knowledge in your industry will help you gain meaningful information, broaden your perspectives, and grow in your field. In addition, the shared experience of being in the same field will bring both of you together, which can only develop your relationship more.

Passion/Enthusiasm for Sharing the Expertise: Just as it is important for a mentor to be knowledgeable in your industry/field of work, it is also key for a mentor to have a passion and enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge. Some mentors are guilty of being condescending, arrogant, or downright rude in terms of sharing their expertise, leaving the mentee feeling belittled, insignificant, and mistreated. Remember, your goal is to better yourself and grow in your career. If you have a mentor that does anything to make you feel the opposite, he/she is not a good fit for you, and most likely is not a good fit to be a mentor at all.

Empathetic/Understanding Attitude: Sure, the mentor can relate to you because you both have similar career backgrounds, but does he/she understand you on a personal level? Do they empathize with the current problems or issues you may be experiencing in your career or life in general? When looking for a good mentor, you want to ensure that they have an empathetic and understanding attitude toward you. This attitude gives you the ability to grow and thrive in each aspect of your life without judgment. Alyse Kalish of The Muse comments on this, stating, “Oftentimes people try to impose their own beliefs or ways of approaching things on others, and this can be a good mentor’s downfall. So find someone you can trust to take your values and input into account over their own.”

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The Ability to Give Honest and Constructive Feedback: On the contrary, while you want a mentor that is emphatic and understanding, you also want a mentor that can give you honest and constructive feedback, as such is necessary to overcome certain obstacles, change bad behaviors, and ultimately grow as a person and in your career. A good mentor will be respectful, genuine, and always have your best interests in mind. If your mentor suspects you are going down a wrong path or perhaps not making the right choices, they will not hold back in telling you that you’re not doing the right thing in order to preserve your feelings.

Willingness to Sponsor You: A mentor’s job is to support and advise you so you can grow and develop your personal and workplace skills. While a mentor is a great person to have in your corner, if your mentor also actively wants to sponsor you, that’s even better. What is the difference between a mentor and a mentor who sponsors you? Better Allies writes in an article from The Muse that sponsors, “vocally support the work of colleagues from underrepresented groups in all contexts, but specifically in situations that will help boost those colleagues’ standing and reputations.”

How to Find a Good Mentor

Start with Your Manager: Depending on your relationship with your manager, you may or may not want to start with them. If you have a good standing with your manager and they are open to helping you out, ask your manager who they would recommend. As your manger is higher than you in terms of their work title, they are likely to know various individuals who would be open to mentoring you. Going about it this way is the simplest, as you interact with your manager on a regular basis and don’t have to do an extensive personal search.

Work with Human Resources: If going to your manager first is not an option, your next option is to work with your company’s human resources department (if your company has one- most typically do). Contact HR and tell them about your mentor-seeking journey and ask for help. Through HR, you can find different mentoring options that your company might offer.

Search Within the Company You Work For: You’ve exhausted your resources in contacting your manager and consulting with human resources, what next? Searching within the company you work for is a great option to find a mentor. Though it can require more energy and work from you, it can be beneficial to reach out to an individual personally rather than through someone else, i.e. a manager or HR worker. Victor Lipman of Forbes suggests, “ If there’s someone else in your company – a manager or executive either in your part of the operation or in another area – whom you highly respect and feel you could learn from, just go ahead and ask them yourself if they’ll mentor you.” Before you do this, Victor notes to inform your direct manager that you’ll be doing this, for transparency!

Be Someone Who is Enjoyable to Mentor: While it may seem like so much of a mentorship relies on the mentor, it relies significantly on you as well! As a mentee, you want to be someone who is enjoyable to mentor, meaning someone who is receptive to what your mentor tells you, actively executing ways to better yourself, and working hard to ensure their work and energy does not go to waste. Kathy Caprino of Forbes poses these important questions to ask yourself, “  Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn, and committed to modifying how you’re interacting in the world so you can have even more success, reward, and happiness?” Answering these questions can give you a greater perspective on what you can do to ensure a healthy mentor/mentee relationship takes place.

Put Yourself in Mentor’s Shoes: People say that empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes or see life from their perspective. Within your mentor relationship, try to put yourself in their shoes to help you understand their position, viewpoints, and perspective. In other words, be someone that is a joy to be mentored!

When it comes to finding a mentor, there are several different factors you want to consider. Evaluate the benefits of having a mentor, look for specific qualities in your prospective mentor, and take the appropriate steps within your work field to find the mentor best for you and your personality. Once you follow those steps, selecting a good mentor for you will be no problem, and will get you on the right path to growing in your life!

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