How to Find a New Mentor
Several months ago, on one of my LinkedIn groups, a woman named Nicole asked how to find a mentor. She was new to her career, new to Orlando, and new to mentoring in general.
It seems a little obvious. Find someone you want to learn from and ask them, right? Except how do you find that someone? Who should you look for? What kind of characteristics should you look for?
I was always hit or miss about finding mentors. I didn't go out looking for them, but managed to befriend and pay close attention to people who I realized later had been acting in a mentor role. We never formalized it and I certainly never asked them if they would mentor me, but that's what ended up happening.
You can be mentored by someone you work closely with, or you can be mentored from afar, speaking by phone and meeting during conferences and occasional gatherings. It can be someone you know well, it can be someone you're getting to know better. But it's important that you find someone who is able to help teach and guide you along your professional career path.
Here's what you should look for in your next (or first) professional mentor.
1) Find someone more experienced in your industry.
First, remember that your mentor doesn't always have to be a 60-year-old CEO of a company. They can be someone just a few years older than you, but with more work experience. Or if you're an older worker joining a new industry, your mentor could even be someone younger than you, but with more experience. You want to be able to ask them questions and learn from them, so industry knowledge and experience will always be helpful, no matter that person's age.
Even better, find someone who has been successful following a similar career track to yours, especially if they're a couple steps ahead of you. They can tell you what they did to get ready for the next level or position and still guide you once you're there.
2) Make sure your new mentor is a regular reader.
We're always encouraged to improve ourselves by reading new books or listening to audiobooks. So it helps if you can find someone who reads a lot. The hope is that they can recommend books that have helped them in the past.
Also, remember, your learning is not just going to be about your industry, so you don't have to read marketing books, sales books, management books, or whatever your field is. There are plenty of life lessons to be gleaned from other sources, like great works of fiction or nonfiction.
Read books about business and political leaders, but also entertainers and athletes. Read history and social commentary. Read widely and not just within your own tiny niche. A mentor who loves reading beyond their industry is someone to be valued.
Ask who inspired them and who they admired growing up. Check to see if those people have any books, especially biographies and autobiographies, so you can see what it is about that person that your mentor admired. Write down any and every book your mentor recommends and ask for suggestions when you run out of new books.
3) If you're lucky, find someone who writes a lot about what they do as well.
In my line of work (marketing), there are plenty of people who write about the things they learn and do, sharing it with their networks. They're mentoring to hundreds, if not thousands, with their writing, which means the information they share is going to be very good. And they're (hopefully) keeping up to date with what's happening, finding new news and knowledge, and becoming industry leaders in their own way.
So make sure you read their work and study it in between the times you speak with them. They're sharing great bits of wisdom and this is a chance for you to take more of it in than you could get in many hours of meetings. Speaking of which. . .
4) Find someone with the time to meet with you regularly.
You don't have to meet weekly, or even monthly. I mean, that's pretty good, and even every couple of months is still quite a bit. I've had mentors I've worked with every day, and I've had mentors I met with every two or three months.
Even if you can only get together two to four times a year, that's still pretty good. This is your chance to ask questions, ask for advice, get their input on problems and situations, and so on. Just be sure to take good notes.
The mentors I've had over the years were more than willing to share advice and tell stories that helped me during my own career. Whether it was stories about their successes, their failures, or small incidents in their lives, they were all helpful. Those gave me some ideas to try, fresh insights to my own problems, and helped guide me along my own way.
In turn, I've been able to act as a mentor to young professionals and writers, sharing my own experience and insights, helping them grow. And that combined knowledge and experience will grow as well, passing from generation to generation. Soak it up, take it in, and get ready to share it in the next few years.