Find a Mentor/Role Model
Sometimes you need an expert with specific information, life experience, and advice that will help you move forward. That’s when you need a mentor. She is a counselor, guide, leader, and pin-up picture on your calendar of success.
- Start with a clear focus. What do you need right now?
- List the people you admire professionally.
- Interview prospective mentors.
- Be clear about what you are asking with regard to time commitments and expectations.
- Remember that mentoring is a two-way street. Both of you must benefit.
Here are some places to start your search.
- Know yourself. Know what you’re looking for before you expect someone else to help in the search for it. You’ll increase your self-awareness through the search process, but have a general idea ahead of time where you think you want to go.
- Talk to people. Anyone can be a mentor and anyone can help you find one. Talk to parents, friends, and co-workers. Sometimes this kind of talk turns into a mentoring relationship, but more often it leads to finding others better suited to help you.
- Talk to your company. Savvy corporations set up mentoring programs to develop their talent. If they have such a program, you may benefit from it. If they don’t, you might get points for making the suggestion. This can be a marvelous low-cost or no-cost benefit for the company to include as on-the-job training.
- Use your human resource department. Have a chat with your company’s human resource professional, not as a mentor but as a facilitator to get you together with a good one.
- Contact role models you read about in newspapers, magazines, and books. Be polite, state what you’re looking for. Many “famous” people had mentors themselves and will be glad to work with you, even on a limited basis. It can’t hurt to try.
- Use your connections. Check out your high school or college alumni organization. Get active in one or more. Check with teachers and professors to see if they can help you get in touch with a prospective mentor. That “old school tie” is a strong bond when you’re looking for advice.
- Look at contacts from your old jobs. They know you, your skills, and your value. As long as you left on good terms, these people can be valuable assets.
- Look for mentors among your peers. Mentors don’t have to have executive titles or strings of degrees after their names. They have to be someone who can further your career ambitions.
- Retired executives often love to stay in touch by mentoring rising stars. Let them help your light shine. They’ve got a wealth of experience and insight to share.
- Investigate professional organizations. Many local and national groups have both formal and informal programs.
- Read professional journals and magazines. Initiate a correspondence with someone whose words grab your attention. Show your interest in her and she may reciprocate.
Make Your Move!
You’ve found a person you’d like to mentor you along, and she’s agreed to support your efforts. So what’s next?
First, define the relationship. Let her know what you want from her, why you want her, and how you envision benefits for the both of you. (And by the way, there’s no rule that says you are limited to a single mentor. You may find you want several people, at different times or for different aspects of your career advancement.) Do your research to learn about her career path, and use this information when asking her to help you advance. Ask good questions and show you’re interested in the answers.
Work together with your mentor to set the ground rules. Here are a few things to consider:
- How often will you meet? Before you approach your mentor, have a good idea of how much time you’d like from her. Do you need to meet once a month or once every other month?
- Under what circumstances will you meet? Coffee shop, home, office? Morning, lunch, evening, weekends?
- How you will stay in touch? By phone or email? Ask what is easiest for her and be willing to accommodate that.
- Confidentiality. This is a must on both sides, especially if you work for the same company or know many of the same people professionally. You’re likely to discuss work situations and professional relationships in the course of your work together, and you must agree to keep all information just between you.
(Remember, just because you have a confidential relationship doesn’t mean you’re free to spread nasty gossip about mutual acquaintances. Be professional!)
- Honesty. If you can’t exchange ideas freely there’s no use in getting started.
- Sensitivity. Be willing to take constructive criticism, but be sensitive to each other’s feelings at the same time.
- Willingness to learn. Isn’t that what this is all about?
- A no-fault escape clause. If your personalities don’t mesh or one of you finds you don’t have the time to devote to this cause, agree ahead of time on a graceful, no excuses needed, exit.
They don’t have to know your name
Sometimes the person who provides you with exceptional inspiration doesn’t even know your name. Role models are usually professionals whom we look up to – we follow their careers and we admire their success. We might even long to be just like them.
Aspiring journalists often cite superstars Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Katie Couric as their role models. These three ladies of network news paved the way for generations of talented female television journalists and they continue to inspire legions of women both in the television industry and out. They do this by being the best in their business and by giving speeches and interviews, thereby spreading their expertise to the masses. Similarly, by becoming the first woman in space, Sally Ride’s strides led other women to dream big and to reach for the stars in their own chosen profession.
You can learn a lot from women you don’t know personally but who have achieved documented monumental success. Study their paths and research their backgrounds to find clues to their success. As you advance in your career, remember that your advice and experiences are valuable to others. Be willing to return the favor and lend a hand, because it’s the best way to build meaningful personal and professional relationships.