How to Choose a Mentor

By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC

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Having a mentor can make it easier to succeed in both work and life. Knowing your objectives in having a mentor as well as qualities to look for in a mentor can help you make the most of this valuable relationship. Here are some important qualities to look for in an advisor, and a step-by-step guide to finding the right one for you.


Qualities to Look for In a Mentor:

 Focus on integrity. Look for someone whom you consider to be a good role model. Do you admire their accomplishments? Their ability to diffuse conflict? Do you want to be like him/her in the future? What is it about him/her that you like and would like to learn? You will an adviser who shares your core values. If he/she is a workaholic and you believe in work/life balance, he/she may not be the best fit for you. Of course, being well-known in the community is not a requirement but connecting with someone who has a strong network will certainly be advantageous.  Anyone you respect and admire may be a good coach for you.

  1. Seek a mentor with relevant experience. Career growth may be the first thing that comes to mind, but mentors can help in any area including family issues or investment guidance. Look for someone with the appropriate background, expertise, and contacts based on your goals. Be sure to make a list of what you would like help with before you even start looking for a mentor. This will give you time to reflect and weed out anyone who may not be a good fit in advance. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-reflection. This relationship will be steered by you so you want to know what you are hoping for so that both you and your mentor feel as though your conversations and meetings are worthwhile.
  2. Find someone with complementary strengths. Look for someone who can assist you in areas where you feel that you need further development. For example, if you're concerned about your presentation skills, you may want to investigate people who are popular speakers in your industry. What is your long-term career goal? Find someone who is several steps ahead of you. He/she can make great recommendations about skills that you need to develop as well as resources that will be helpful for your professional growth.  
  3. Look for a good counselor. A mentor is a facilitator and a sounding board. You should feel safe being vulnerable. Let’s face it. It’s not easy to be vulnerable. You want to make sure your mentor is supportive and allows you to sort through your thoughts without judgement. His/her objective perspective on your situation can be extremely valuable. Ideally, he/she will help you develop your own wisdom and create your own solutions.  

 You may want to consider doing a personal and professional SWOT analysis before you seek a mentor. That is, what are your

S: Strengths

W: Weaknesses

O: Opportunities

T: Threats

Use your personal SWOT analysis in terms of reaching your goals. You may want more than one mentor, one for your professional goals and one for your personal goals. Once your mentor knows you better, you can do a SWOT analysis together regarding your personal and/or professional goals.

Step-by-Step Guide to Finding the Right Mentor for You:

  1. Start with people you know. You may already know your mentor. If you have colleagues and acquaintances that you admire and want to emulate, they may be ideal candidates.
  2. Research additional prospects. To find someone with the right experience and skills, you may need to go beyond your current network. Online tools such as LinkedIn or local chapters of trade associations can be great resources for finding accomplished individuals in any industry.
  3. Ask for help. If you feel shy about doing asking someone to mentor you, remember that your prospective advisor may feel flattered that you appreciate his or her wisdom and skills. If you're approaching a mentor you don't already know personally, you can send a letter of introduction summarizing your request and asking for a brief meeting to talk it over.
  4. Get references. If you decide to work with a paid mentor, check their references first to evaluate their services. Ask other clients if they're satisfied with the return on their investment.
  5. Discuss your objectives. Start out by talking about your goals with your mentor. If you decide to work together, you'll want to develop measurable objectives along with an evaluation plan and timetable, so you can track your progress. An initial conversation can clarify if your mentor is really in a position to provide the kind of assistance you need. Be clear on how much time you are hoping for per week or per month. Your mentor will expect you to have certain items you want to discuss so definitely take the initiative, once you have established a meeting time/day to send an agenda. You may find the SMART goal template helpful, combined with your SWOT analysis helpful for your meetings with your mentor. SMART goals are:

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Action oriented

R: Results

T: Time oriented

6. Communicate regularly. Ensure you and your adviser both understand your mutual expectations about the amount of time you plan to invest in this relationship. If it matters to you, specify your need for in-person meetings in addition to any teleconferences. Find out if you'll be working with your chosen coach directly or an associate.

7. Thank your mentor. Even if your mentor works with you on a paid basis, remember to express your gratitude for their generosity. Tell them that you appreciate them. Thank everyone who helps you in your search for an adviser. This may be a process you'll repeat throughout your life, so cherish these relationships.

  Working with an adviser gives you the opportunity to learn from their experience and expertise. Choose your mentors wisely, and you'll be one step closer to getting everything you want in your career and your life.


Additional Resources

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