A good mentor can make a huge difference in your life and help you advance in your career. But developing a mentor relationship doesn’t happen overnight. And a mentorship can take a variety of forms. It can be a formal one, arranged through your employer or school. It can be a semiformal relationship, where you reach out to a person you’d like to guide you and work with that person within parameters you both agree upon. It can be a completely organic experience that arises out of a work or other professional relationship.
Mentors can help you move forward in many different ways. They can be a role model for where you want to go and who you want to be. They can help you improve your professional skills. They can connect you with influencers in your industry. They can give you “inside information” that helps you navigate office or industry politics as you evolve in your career.
Here are some basic steps to help you find a mentor who’s right for you:
- Determine what you want from your mentor. Are you seeking advice from someone who’s successfully traveled the career path you’re on? Do you need help with specific skills, like managing people or counseling leadership to advance your career? Do you want regular meetings and a clear structure to your relationship? Do you simply want someone you can rely on whenever you need advice? Determining what you want will shape your next steps.
- If you want a structured relationship, see if your current employer or current or former school (if you are a current student or a very recent grad) has a mentorship program. Do your research to find out if the program will work for you.
- If you plan to advance within your organization, identify a leader you strive to emulate and explore whether he or she would be open to mentoring you.
- Find a mentor through networking. You may find a perfect match in your industry at a professional association event.
- Consider becoming a mentor to someone else. Perhaps a peer with complementary skills to your own, so you can both learn from each other. Or offer to guide a less experienced colleague. You can learn a lot from someone in a younger generation and from sharing what you’ve learned.
- Don’t stop at one. You can have more than one mentor. And you can mentor more than one person. With a slate of mentors, you’ll have ready access to good advice that helps you succeed in your career—and in life.