Finding a mentor

A mentor is someone who agrees to share their skills, knowledge, expertise, and professional contacts with you. Mentors can help you set career goals, resolve difficult problems, and make sound career decisions. People with mentors earn higher salaries, are promoted more frequently, and report higher job satisfaction than those without mentors. Sounds pretty good, right? You may already have one, since many mentoring relationships arise organically at work or in school. But if you’ve found yourself without a mentor, and you want one, here’s how to go about finding one:

1. What do you need from a mentor?

First and foremost, you’re looking for someone who’s interested in mentoring. Other than that prerequisite, it’s up to you to identify what kind of person you’re looking for. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you looking for someone local? Is it important to you to meet in person?
  • Are you looking for someone with a particular skillset? Or who works in a particular field?
  • What kind of time commitment are you looking for?
  • What’s important to you in terms of personality? For example, would you like to be mentored by someone who is outgoing and boisterous, or calm and soft-spoken?
  • What do you want to gain from the relationship? For example, do you need guidance on a specific project or could you use ongoing support making a career transition?

2. Where should you look for a mentor?

Once you narrow down what you need from a mentor, searching for one becomes a bit easier. Here are a few places to look:

Within your network: Former supervisors, professors, volunteer managers, or contacts you know through your friends and family are great places to start. And don’t forget your weak ties.

Strangers: Perhaps no one in your immediate network quite fits what you’re looking for. There is no harm in considering a stranger to be your mentor and there are a few places to look:

  • Search for potential mentors online using LinkedIn.
  • Look through the members of associations related to your field or the field you’re interested.
  • Check the alumni directory of your alma mater for potential connections.

Programs: There are a growing number of programs that facilitate mentoring relationships. Many fellowship programs – such as the Fellowship for Emerging Leaders in Public Service – connect participants to mentors. Net Impact has a Career Connections program that allows business professionals to reach each other online. Start by exploring membership associations in your field and community such as the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Also, it may seem intuitive that you’ll want a mentor from your professional field, but don’t discount the value of a mentor from a very different profession or background. Mentoring relationships can span many years, so your mentor might follow you through several job changes.

3. What does your relationship look like?

In your initial contact, send an email asking to meet up for coffee, in their office, or a phone call. Conduct this initial meeting like an informational interview: ask some specific questions about their career path and experiences. Also, get a sense of the chemistry. This is an exploratory conversation to get a sense of whether or not you’ll be a great pair.

Note: If the person is slow to respond, or gives vague answers, perhaps it’s not a good time for them to be a mentor. Don’t take it personally!

Once you’ve established contact with the person, continue to cultivate the relationship. You can send occasional updates or interesting articles—remember, networking is a two-way street, so if you can provide valuable information to your potential mentor, do it! At this point, you’re also testing the waters yourself—is this person who you want to be your mentor? Are you clicking? Are you finding their advice useful?

If the answer is yes, you may want to formalize the relationship. One strategy might be to ask if you can set up a regular monthly meeting to check in. Ultimately, the structure of the relationship is up to you and your mentor.

Additional resources

If you want to learn more about finding a mentor, check out the resources below:

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