A great mentor is one of the secrets to career success. Mentors help you navigate the work world, providing useful insight and guiding you through confusing office politics. By choosing the right person for your current situation, you can take control of your professional path.
Determine Your Needs
The factors that make a great mentor vary from person to person. If you're just starting out at a large corporation, you might need someone who's well-versed in the politics and power structure of the organization. If you want to change industries midway through a career, an experienced executive in the new field can provide helpful tips and connections. Before you do anything else, make a list of the things you need to move forward, from skill development to industry-specific advice.
Start With HR
Once you know what you need in a great mentor, head to the HR department. Ask about any existing mentoring programs that your company offers, either in-house or through a professional organization. These programs often tackle the search process for you, which can be useful when you don't have connections to higher-level company executives. They also offer structure and direction to guide the mentor-mentee relationship. Going to HR gives you a direct program connection, which is helpful if you want to bypass a bad manager.
Identify Ideal Mentors
For companies that don't have a mentoring program, it's up to you to identify potential mentors. Ask your boss for recommendations, if you feel comfortable doing so, or simply seek out people based on reputation. Use your list of needs as a guide, and don't limit your search to the upper levels of the company — a great mentor might be only slightly more senior than you. To meet a goal of becoming a great public speaker, for example, look to the employee who always captivates the team in meetings. If you work in a small business, look for mentors outside of the company. Find them at networking events, through loved ones or via professional connections.
Build Relationships First
Before you ask a person to be your mentor, it's best to establish a relationship. Strike up a conversation in the break room, say hello after a meeting or ask the person to lunch. If you're after a higher-level employee, send an email explaining that you're looking for a mentor, and request a meeting to discuss the possibility. This enables both parties to evaluate the viability and appeal of a potential mentoring arrangement, and ensures that your request doesn't come out of the blue.
Get Multiple Mentors
As with any relationship, it's unreasonable to expect one person to give you everything you need. Even a great mentor has limits of knowledge and experience. Don't be afraid to seek out multiple people to increase your chances of career success. You might choose one person for his industry savvy, another for his hard skills and yet another for his unique connections. This strategy reduces the burden on each person and exposes you to a wide range of information.
A great mentor helps you succeed in the workplace, whether you're starting an entry-level job, changing industries or simply looking to advance. With the right selection criteria and strategies, you can identify the people who can best benefit your career.
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