Every professional has heard that having a mentor is key to succeeding in business. But seldom do you hear the details of how to get a mentor and what to expect. TNJ.com asked three career experts some of the most common questions about mentors and mentees.
TNJ.com: Is it a good idea to get a mentor?
John Mauck, Human Resources Director for WLR Automotive Group, Inc.: Mentors can provide you with insight. We all have our go-to resources such as friends or family members. But finding someone who can truly help you on your career path, without the bias that a family member or friend would have, is invaluable.
Professional coach Niquenya Collins, president/CEO of Building Bridges Consulting and author of Why YOU SUCK at Network Marketing: Mentors are professionals within your industry who have already achieved a certain level of success to which you are aspiring. It’s a great idea to get a mentor because these individuals can share their journey, lessons learned, mistakes and best practices to help reduce the learning curve associated with your professional mission. You don’t have to waste time reinventing the wheel when you have access to the knowledge and resources shared by a mentor.
Jeremy Hill, who just finished writing a book on the importance of mentors in IT careers: Having a mentor really follows in the tradition of being an apprentice. Many complicated trades require years of on-the-job training and experience before newcomers can effectively stand on their own. Also, much like having a travel guide, having someone on speed dial who has navigated some of the same issues or concerns you are running into can be an invaluable resource that saves time and money.
TNJ.com: Can you have a mentor at any stage in your career?
Mauck: A mentor can be valued at any point in your career. Obviously, we can all see where a mentor would be important at the beginning of a career. But at the end of our career, we might be planning an exit strategy and moving toward retirement. Having a mentor who has gone through that experience can still be important.
Collins: Absolutely! Because mentors are typically further along in their careers or businesses than you are; it is highly recommended to tap into their knowledge and expertise at any stage of your development. There is always more to learn and opportunity to collaborate in joint ventures and other types of partnerships.
Hill: Absolutely! I have found personally that those who were my mentors early in my career have become some of my most trusted friends and colleagues. So while the nature of the relationship may change a little, I still turn to them for advice.
TNJ.com: What should you look for in your mentor?
Mauck: Your mentor should not be too close to you; it should be someone who can remain objective. He or she needs to be able to provide you with honest feedback. I heavily recommend that you find a person outside your workplace and inner circle. That way, you can be relaxed about speaking with the person. It will make you feel safer.
Collins: A great mentor will be like-minded, share similar values and beliefs, have already achieved a certain level of success within your industry, and have both the time and willingness to commit to your development.
Hill: It’s important to find someone you can relate well with; someone who has experience working in your field and also has the time and willingness to take on a mentee. I recommend not going for people who are at the top of their field, simply because they are the ones that tend to be the busiest and get more requests than they can handle. But with a little bit of research, it’s often quite easy to find someone who is just slightly more advanced in their career. The person might also be flattered that you are turning to him or her for advice.
TNJ.com: Should you interview your mentor?
Mauck: You definitely should interview your mentor. Interviewing does not have to feel formal. If the person is near you, I would suggest inviting her or him to dinner or a social environment where you can talk. You need to be able to match up your mentors knowledge and expertise to your opportunities to learn.
Collins: Informational interviews are a great way to meet and determine if a potential mentor is the right fit for your needs. Meet for coffee or lunch to discuss the potential mentor’s background and experience. Ask questions about his or her work and lessons learned. Take note of how well you communicate with one another. If you feel comfortable, ask if your prospective mentor is willing and able to to take on committing to you in this role. Be very clear about what would be expected of your mentor and what he or she can expect of you as well. To sweeten the request, consider ways to provide value in exchange.
Hill: Interview is a strong word. I suggest sending out a very brief email that gets right to the point, stating that you are looking for a mentor that might be able to meet with you either on the phone or via Skype for 20-30 minutes every other week. Be sure that you understand not only what the person does, but also his or her specialties. Read up on anything the person has written so that you are not wasting time.
TNJ.com: Where should you look for a mentor?
Mauck: If you belong to professional organizations, some of them offer professional mentoring programs. Also, networking in social organizations in your community, like the Chamber of Commerce or Rotary, are other ways you can find mentors. If you have an opportunity to go to a national conference in your field, network there to find people who could be a fit as a mentor. Lastly, reaching out to friends and relatives who may be connected might also be an opportunity.
Collins: The best places to seek mentors are on LinkedIn, in industry/trade groups, at your local Chamber of Commerce, and other networking groups. You might even find the perfect mentor on a past job such as a former supervisor.
Hill: Finding the right mentor is somewhat of an art form. I have had the most success with people who speak or give presentations at industry conferences. They have established themselves as experts enough to stand in front of a crowd and speak intelligently on specific matters and are very approachable. Twitter is a gold mine too. If the person is active on Twitter or social media (such as LinkedIn), introducing yourself is even easier.