Mentors have helped me see things differently about what I want to accomplish in life and how to go after it, both personally and professionally. I truly believe I would not have gotten this far were it not for my mentors.
When choosing a mentor, I sometimes just knew if she or he was the right person for the job, while other situations led me to put a lot of consideration into it before starting a relationship. In doing so, I’ve discovered there are some criteria that you can use to determine if someone will make a good mentor for you. Here’s how:
1. Decide what you need from a mentor.
In order to find the right mentor, I first had to know what I wanted out of the relationship. At different points in my life, those needs have changed. For example, when I was younger, what I needed was a mentor to help me determine if I could become an entrepreneur (and how). Now that I am one, I have a mentor to help me continually assess where I’m at in life and what I could do differently to increase my productivity, balance, social good and personal wealth.
Start by generating a list of short-term and long-term career goals, and determine what skills and knowledge you will need to get there. Then, list what type of benefits you perceive a mentor could provide. Decide if expertise in a particular industry is a must, or if you are seeking general experience and knowledge that can serve you regardless of your career path. This information will help you determine whether you want a mentor with experience and skills to guide you regardless of the industry, or if you want a mentor that specifically can help you grow within a certain business niche.
2. Know what you want to ask your mentor candidates.
Asking the right questions can help you narrow down your list of potential mentors, because their answers will provide you with a sense of what they would be like to work with and what benefits they could offer. Here are a few that I ask:
–What other types of mentoring have you done?
–What are the most important characteristics of a mentor?
–How would you describe your leadership style?
–What special skills or knowledge do you have that could help me?
–How much time do you have to devote to mentoring?
–Can you describe a typical mentoring program to me?
3. Identify the characteristics of an effective mentor.
There are key characteristics to look for in a mentor that I have found have helped me get where I wanted to be. The unifying factor with these characteristics is that they are all tied to positivity and objectivity. They include empathy, consistency, patience, maturity, honesty, openness, accessibility, strength, the ability to be savvy, and effective communication. Meet with them in person to see if you can spot these characteristics in action. Then, ask them to describe their best and worst characteristics. Observe their body language to determine how those characteristics come across nonverbally. And finally, watch them in action at a conference or event or shadow them in their own organization to see how they work.
4. Get input from others
While there is no Yelp “mentor edition,” I have asked others for input on certain people I was considering to mentor me. I’ve also had people approach me and ask my opinion on the subject. Referrals for mentoring really helps to narrow down the selection, because you have tried-and-tested mentoring experiences to use as a measuring stick for your own selection process. Run similar questions by them to see how they explain a certain mentor. Then, get a few opinions before deciding so you can see if there is any pattern in responses, and ask others to provide specific examples as to why (or why not) you should work with a particular mentor.
5. Create a partnership plan and run it by each candidate.
The responses I get to my partnership plan tell me a lot about what it would be like to work with a particular mentor. Those that stand out the most are the ones that give me their honest feedback, including what they would change about the plan. How they present their opinion tells me whether we would be compatible. They don’t have to agree with me — if anything, the best mentoring relationships are those where I was questioned about what I was proposing. So, ask your potential mentors what they would change about the plan and why, and see if they have their own partnership plan they can share for comparison’s sake.
Don’t rush the process of finding a mentor, because you need to make sure it will work for the both of you. It may be good to set up a trial period after making your initial decision to test your intuition. If it doesn’t work out, keep some other candidates on the back burner to try out next.