Finding a professional mentor can be an invaluable asset for individuals striving to advance their career. They can provide industry insights, career advice, foster connections, open new opportunities, and more.
However, finding a mentor that is a good fit for you and your professional goals can be a challenge. Therefore, it is helpful for mentees to determine what they want out of the mentorship relationship before starting the search. This makes the hunt simpler and will help guide the search since the goals will already be laid out. Before getting into the specifics of what to look for in a mentor/mentee relationship, let’s first breakdown the mentor’s role.
What is a Mentor?
A professional mentor is someone who helps a less experienced individual navigate their field of work and helps the mentee grow in their career. This can be through opening doors for the mentee, providing guidance on what opportunities to pursue, introducing them to other decision-makers in their field, answering questions using personal experience, and more.
Qualities to Look for in a Mentor
When looking for a mentor, mentees should first identify which characteristics they desire their future mentor to possess. This will help mentees weed out potential mentor candidates that do not align with their needs and wants. There are a few common qualities to look for that tend to be good characteristics for mentors to have. They are:
- Feedback Capabilities
Mentees often run ideas by mentors in order to receive feedback. Therefore, good mentors should be able to provide thoughtful and helpful feedback that the mentee can use to take action. Find someone that provides feedback in a constructive manner. A mentor that is too agreeable or delivers criticism too harshly will not be helpful in the long term.
- Industry Knowledge
Finding a mentor that is in the same industry is extremely helpful. That allows for informative and in-depth discussions, as well as more valuable and relevant advice.
The mentor should be enthusiastic about accepting the role. If they are not excited to start the professional relationship, they will not be invested in helping their mentee succeed. Make sure the potential mentor is eager to get started.
It is not beneficial for a mentee to have a mentor that does not have time to talk or meet. Before starting the professional relationship, plan or discuss how frequently the two of you will communicate. This allows for both parties to decide if both parties in the mentorship have time to dedicate to the relationship, as well as making sure schedules align.
- Listening Ability
Mentees learn from mentors and vice versa. A good mentor should listen to the mentee’s thoughts, concerns, and questions to provide insightful answers and guidance. If a mentor does not listen to what their mentee is saying, they may not respect them.
Just because a mentor is usually more experienced than the mentee, does not give them the right to act disrespectfully or pompous. Mentees should look for someone who respects them, their opinions, work, and goals to ensure a healthy and worthwhile connection.
What Experience Should a Mentor Possess?
One of the most vital factors to consider when searching for a mentor is their experience. Mentees should look for someone who has more experience than them, especially in the same industry or line of work. This ensures the relationship will be beneficial to the mentee since the mentor will be able to answer relevant questions and provide accurate advice.
There are some general guidelines when evaluating experience. Mentors tend to be older than the mentees because that means they likely have more experience. However, mentors that are around five to ten years older than the mentee tend to be a good fit. When the age difference is 20-30 years, the mentor’s advice may be too out of date for the mentee to apply to their circumstances. Technology is changing the world very quickly and what was once true for the mentor 25 years ago is likely outdated by now.
One way to scout a mentor that could be a good match is to research job titles. Mentees can scout individuals that possess a job title that is a few levels ahead of their current role. Mentees should also search for potential mentors with job titles that they would like to work their way up to. This helps ensure that the professional relationship will be fruitful since the advice the mentor provides will be relevant to the mentee. For example, if the mentee is a software developer and they have interest in one day leading a team of developers, a good mentor might be someone who is a DevOps engineer.
Where to Look for a Mentor
Mentors can show when you least expect it. However, sometimes people do not want to wait around for someone to magically appear. If you fall into this group, some places you can find a mentor are:
- Networking Events
Networking events are a prime opportunity to find a mentor. The major purpose of these events is to facilitate new connections and bring people together. Throughout the event, take notes of people you think could make for a good mentor and collect their contact information, social profiles, or business cards. This way you can follow up with them after the event to continue building the relationship while also seeing if they would make a good fit.
- Conferences and Tradeshows
Conferences and tradeshows are excellent places to scout a potential mentor. This is especially true for industry-specific events because the majority of the attendees will be working in the same field. Therefore, most people you speak with will be knowledgeable of your industry, which as we discussed above is extremely helpful. Furthermore, networking is a main factor as to why many people attend these events. Thus, people are excited to meet others and make professional connections.
- Social Media
One of the best and most intuitive methods of finding a mentor is through social media. Websites like LinkedIn allow users to search people by companies, industries, job roles, city, and more. This allows mentees to find potential candidates who are in the exact line-of-work they are looking to enter one day. Additionally, platforms such as Twitter and Instagram can be great tools to find thought leaders and experts in particular areas. Searching specific hashtags and following industry-related media outlets can illuminate profiles of people that may make good candidates for mentors.
If looking for a mentor specifically in the tech-realm, additional places to look are hackathons, talking with venture capitalists, attending webinars/speaking panels, and joining a tech organization, club, or group.
Finding a mentor that is a good match and agrees to the position is not something that happens overnight. It takes research, communication, and time to find someone that aligns well with your personal goals. When you do find someone you believe will be a good mentor, do not be afraid to reach out and start the process. If someone declines the role, that is part of the process. Remember, if you never take the leap and reach out, you will find a mentor.