Five Steps to Find and Use a Mentor

Take your career to the next level, and get  yourself a mentor. A mentor is a personal, portable resource to help you set and meet your unique goals. Mentoring is an explicit one-to-one learning relationship between you, who want to improve career skills and a person who can, based on experience, help. Mentors are much more than "go-to" people. They invest in your development, they share knowledge, encouragement, guidance and feedback. They advocate for your success. 

Follow these five steps to find a mentor and learn the most from that person. 

  1. Define what you want to accomplish and what help you need. Examine yourself and your aspirations. Be honest about what you need to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing to get there. You can be completely candid with a mentor, which is part of the purpose of having one. The more clearly you see your strengths and weaknesses, and the more willing you are to lay those out to someone you trust, the more successfully you will work with a mentor.
  2. Find people who can offer you what you want, whom you admire, and who will feel honored at your request. One fundamental characteristic that a mentor must have is a passion for helping others succeed. Don't be shy. Ask your colleagues, friends, family members and virtual connections to help you conduct your search. It's similar to a job search. You want the best match possible, and you decide what "best" looks like. Think about trust, communication styles and diversity of perspectives. You may want to find more than one mentor at a time.
  3. Contract for the mentoring process. The number one reason mentoring works is because the learning experience is shaped exactly to you and what you need. You and your mentor together define that shape. There are two parts to the mentoring contract: role definition and goal definition. This may be formal or informal, but always it is stated. Clarity and structure keep a focused process moving, with built-in flexibility to continually assess and improve.
  4. Contact your mentor as planned. One of the great challenges professionals face is asking for specific help. I have no other advice than "just do it." Having a mentor does no good if you do not use that person. Your mentor cannot guess how to help you. These contacts should be high priority for both of you.
  5. Examine or end the formal mentoring when you achieve your goals, or when new needs arise that change your direction. This may mean you re-contract around new goals, move into a less formal relationship, or find a new mentor. Mentoring is a long-term relationship, but it need not be for life. Mentoring should be totally relevant to what is going on for you at any given time. Ending the formal mentoring is not an insult to the mentor, but rather a tribute to how valuable that person has been. Very often, mentors and mentees remain friends. 
I'd love to know what sort of experiences you have had in finding and using mentors. And what questions and thoughts do you have about this process?

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