How to find a mentor
Christine Khor answers your questions about work and careers in her regular column, Hire Intelligence.
Question: “I’ve read many biographies of successful people and one thing that regularly comes up is that the successful person has had a mentor in the past. Is it beneficial to connect with a personal mentor to be successful? How does one find a mentor?”
Mentorship used to be a common practice in life, so much so that we barely noticed it was happening. It’s only by comparing how we now live, communicate and work, that it becomes apparent how much we previously relied on mentors.
When I was growing up, I learned how to cook from my mum. I had teachers at school and university who guided me towards my career. I had managers in my early career who helped shape me and primed me for future challenges and endeavours. That was the way it worked back then. Now, however, things are different.
While people nowadays are more self-sufficient than ever, the concept of mentorship, particularly in business, has been lost along the way. This is just a sign of the times. With the average tenure of employment decreasing and job-hopping or career changes more prevalent, people are simply not around long enough in one business to receive mentorship naturally. Accordingly, potential mentors are not around long enough in one business to offer their expertise and knowledge.
Despite this obstacle, the more driven of us will still seek out a mentor, believing that those who have come before us have valuable knowledge and experience to pass down. Academic studies have indicated that people who use mentors tend to be more successful than those without mentors. They are more inclined to receive promotions, earn higher salaries and have more job satisfaction.
Before you take the plunge and search for a mentor, ensure you are ready to be mentored. One of the critical parts of a good mentoring relationship is the mentee’s ability to be vulnerable.
So how does one find a mentor? It’s important to understand that formal mentoring programs can have their disadvantages. As mentoring is about a trusted relationship, there needs to be chemistry between the mentor and mentee. There may also be difficulties in privacy if you both work for the same company. I suggest taking part in mentorship programs if your workplace offers them, and hopefully you will be matched with a suitable mentor; however, if not, you will need to seek out your own mentors.
This can be achieved by simply talking to people, forming relationships on LinkedIn and attending the kind of networking events that are likely to attract the expertise you are interested in. If there is someone in your workplace that you admire, approach them to see if they will meet with you every few months for a coffee and a chat. If they don’t have time, you can still learn from them. Simply observe them at work and try to get involved in projects they are involved in.
I recommend formal mentoring programs that are run by industry associations or networks. For example, Marketing Women Inc offers a mentoring program for marketing professionals.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, just because someone is an expert in the specific area you need advice on, it doesn’t automatically make them the right mentor for you.
It is critical to find a mentor who suits your personality. The personalities of the two parties need to balance each other – not necessarily be the same, but be complementary. Ideally, the mentor will have the characteristics that the mentee either lacks or would like to strengthen. There needs to be a high level of trust and respect in this relationship, as a good mentor will need to have courageous conversations with their mentee, providing constructive critical feedback or bringing to the table a healthy dose of reality.