How to Find and Utilize a Mentor

mentorAlmost a year ago, in an article entitled Building a Foundation: Ten Things To Do First If You’re Looking At Starting Your Own Business, I described the value of finding a business mentor and offered a few minor tips for finding one.

The truth, though, is that a mentor is incredibly valuable no matter what you’re doing.

What Is A Mentor?

So, what exactly is a mentor? It’s a term often bandied around in business books, but it’s often not looked at outside of this context.

A mentor is any person who can help guide you to the goals you desire through example and discussion. You can have a parenting mentor just as easily as you can have a business mentor. You can have a blogging mentor, a golfing mentor, or a chess mentor. Whatever it is you want to succeed at, you can likely find a mentor who will help you get there.

What can a mentor provide? The key thing that a mentor provides is advice. They’re a person that can provide suggestions, based on their own experience, that will point you towards the success that you want. They can also provide help through example – you can learn from them how to act, what to know, and so on.

7 Tactics for Finding a Mentor

1. Meet people in your workplace.

If you’re seeking a mentor within the organization you work with, your best bet is to simply build as many relationships within your organization as you can. Not only will you have a better chance of discovering good potential mentors, you’ll also build up valuable relationships for your own ends. Plus, you’re much more likely to have a person or two in common with the person you want to be your mentor.

2. Meet people in your community.

Similarly, if you’re looking for mentors in non-professional areas, look around your community. Get involved in interest groups related to what you’re engaged in and volunteer within those organizations. Go to general community meetings. Meet your neighbors. Keep your ears open for the type of people you’re looking for. Another tactic is to simply find people who write for niche publications in your area of interest, as well as people who blog on that topic – you can at least be sure of their passion in the area.

3. Meet people in your industry.

If you’re simply looking to excel within a particular industry, attend conferences. There are few better places to meet people within your industry than a trade conference. You should also make an effort to follow trade publications within your field and contact interesting authors.

4. Identify the people who have achieved what you want to achieve.

As you meet more and more people and get more involved, you’ll probably start to realize what levels of success you want to achieve, particularly in the shorter term. Look for the people who have already achieved that level for potential mentors.

5. Don’t go over your head.

If you’re a newly minted MBA, don’t go try to swing Jack Welch as your mentor – you’re wasting your time. Instead, look for people who are a few levels up the chain. If/when you reach that level and you decide you want further success, you can always seek a new mentor – or you may find that your previous mentor is still climbing the ladder. Don’t burn your time trying to get a mentor too far up the chain – work your way up there.

6. Watch potential mentors, and listen to what they have to say in public (and in private).

Once you’ve identified some people who might serve as a good mentor for you, watch them. Listen to what they have to say. Read the things they write. Get a good feel for how they think and operate from the outside.

7. Don’t choose a mentor who makes statements or decisions you find ethically questionable.

If someone is doing something you find ethically wrong, move on. Don’t get drawn into a person who is using questionable methods to find success, because people who do that usually get swatted down at some point. The tactics you should seek to learn are the ones that bring success with ethical standards.

8 Tactics for Utilizing a Mentor

1. Do something generous to get their attention.

Step up to the plate in a way that positively affects the person you want to be your mentor. Be patient and wait for the right opportunity. It may come in the form of assistance with a project, a key presentation, sharing of important information, or just a well-capitalized chance meeting. Be polished and be generous with what you can share.

2. Don’t expect the person to become your mentor.

Many people get their hopes centered around a person becoming their mentor, then find that it didn’t work out for whatever reason. Don’t let that get you down. People who make good mentors often have a lot on their plate and are unable to devote time to helping you. Also, personality conflicts can create a situation that just doesn’t work through no fault of either one of you.

3. Schedule a meeting.

If you’ve got their attention, try to schedule a meeting. A lunch is a good way to do this, but even a short office meeting will work. Strike while the iron is hot and you’re on their mind in a positive sense and you’re likely to get that meeting. Do it out of the blue with no pretense and you’ll probably find a fat rejection.

4. Be prepared, but not from notes.

Know not only the things they’re interested in at the moment, but also know what you want. Read up on their current interests and be familiar with them, plus make a list of the questions you’d like to ask that person. Also, when you meet, be straightforward – tell the person that you’d like for them to mentor you a bit.

5. Ask every question you can, but don’t forget the most important one!

Don’t be afraid to ask away when the opportunity comes, but there’s one question you should always ask, no matter what the situation: what would you do if you were in my shoes and had it to do all over again? That advice is always useful – a person who found success probably tried several things before hitting upon success.

6. Follow up.

A relationship between your mentor and you should be a conversation, and that means following up. Don’t be afraid to use email or phone calls to touch base somewhat regularly (but don’t be a nuisance, either). Ask more questions as they come up and follow up by letting your mentor know how things are going for you. Your mentor will probably toss some things your way – do them well.

7. Make the relationship go both ways.

Your mentor will be giving you valuable time, valuable advice, and probably valuable opportunities. Take advantage of these, but if there’s anything you can do to help out your mentor, do it. Talk positively of your mentor to others and give your mentor key information when you can.

8. When you make it, don’t forget who helped you.

If you work hard and are diligent, you may achieve the success that you want. When you get there, you may have the opportunity to lend your mentor a real helping hand. Always do it. Your mentor will help you in so many ways as you begin to rise to the level of success that you want, and helping out your mentor will help them do quiet things that you never even notice. Reciprocate that help.

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  1. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    Excellent article. Appreciate the link to your previous post…that was a good read too!

    Another great way to find mentors in this modern age is to start a blog. I recently started a blog to chronicle the steps I’m taking to start my own computer consulting business. Already my blog has attracted readers who were once in my shoes and have been willing to help me out with advice and guidance.

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    I like the way you defined mentor, Trent. So often the mythical mentor is supposed to take you under his/her wings and show you the to ropes to not just your life’s passion but to life itself. Sadly, these folks just don’t exist anymore — if they ever did. And, if they did, you had to be willing to give up everything else and just follow them around, doing whatever they instructed, and waiting to catch their pearls of wisdom as they dropped them from time to time. Who has the time or inclination to devote to make that kind of investment to any one person hoping he/she turns out to be a great mentor? I wager no one.

    Now, having said that, I do believe that one should “sit at the feet” of the master. The deceased ones who have stood the test of time in dispensing words of wisdom and sage advice on it seems all things. I’m talking ancient and modern philosophers, businessmen and women, artists, and other great thinkers, according to your calling.

    Having myself been tapped to play the role of mentor since law school and beyond, if you do seek a mentor, I have this piece of advice for all would-be mentees: Be sincere and just treat the whole process as becoming friends. If you wouldn’t want to be friends with your mentor, then that’s not a good fit for you. More on this in my post called “Heroes and Mentors” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/08/11/all-about-you-day-9-heroes-and-mentors/

  3. Curt says:

    Excellent article. Of course the best mentor you can have is your parents, and if you are luckly enough to have good parents count it as a blessing.

    The next likely place to find a good mentor is at a school, because a good mentor is always someone that is knowledgeable and enjoys teaching others what they know. Many people are knowledgeable, but few are teachers.

  4. John F says:

    You mention not to get too close to people who you feel are questionable morally. I think it might be worth discussion to address situations where their moral standing is different depending on the situation.

    What if you have someone who is very experienced, knowledgeable, capable and dedicated to their field, and ethically sound within that realm – a perfect choice for a mentor, just as dedicated and enthusiastic as you. However, they are also extremely vocal about issues outside of this field, whether political or social that you find yourself not only disagreeing with, but finding truly ethically questionable. How does one handle a situation like this?

  5. Anna says:

    By following all these suggestions, and with the passage of time, you too will eventually become someone’s mentor (maybe several someones…). What a wonderful opportunity to participate in the great mesh of human relationships, aspirations, and productivity!

  6. sara says:

    Boy, this is a useful post- i always really like the idea of mentorship (both giving and receiving), but I feel like its hard to get the specifics of what exactly that looks like. In situations where I’ve been a mentor, I feel like what I have to say feels canned, and when I want a mentor, I’m afraid I won’t have enough questions to make it feel like its worth their while. I’d love another post on this, or more thoughts from you and(or) others.

  7. Ian says:

    Trent,

    Excellent article. I love reading your take on things. This is something for everyone. We are not born all knowing, and never will be, but if we can find someone who was sucessful doing what we wish to, the best thing we can do is listen and learn!

  8. Niki says:

    I have been reading a lot of self help books and they all mention the importance of finding a mentor, but none that I have read have explained how to go about doing it as well as you have. I have always felt intimidated at the thought of finding a mentor… but you put it well by reminding me that finding a mentor doesn’t mean having to find one all the way at the top. Awesome post!

  9. Lacey says:

    This was a great post! There is so much turbulence in the market today, and people need peace of mind more than ever. I wanted to offer your readers a link to another blogger who is doing great work. He writes about our ‘childhood money messages’ and how the best approach to stability in today’s market is to resist letting these emotions control our buying/selling habits. It is really fascinating work, and something you should all check out. His name is Spencer Sherman, and you can view his blog at http://www.curemoneymadness.com/blog.

  10. What about the other side of the coin: being a mentor to someone else?

  11. Yuri says:

    @John F – I imagine this would be a pretty unusual situation – where everything they did in one field ‘agreed’ with you, but everything they did in another field ‘diagreed’ with you.

    People who are ethically weak tend to be so across the board, not just in one part of their lives, don’t you think? It would be able to lift a tonne of one material and not being able to lift a tonne of a different material.

  12. Yuri says:

    (trying again with less typos)

    @John F – I imagine this would be a pretty unusual situation – where everything they did in one field ‘agreed’ with you, but everything they did in another field ‘disagreed’ with you.

    People who are ethically weak tend to be so across the board, not just in one part of their lives, don’t you think? It would be like being able to lift a tonne of one material and not being able to lift a tonne of a different material.

  13. Pushing30 says:

    What a great post and so timely for me as a reader! Today I approached my mentor at work and asked her for assistance in writing a very important email regarding an issue I’m having with my manager. Her advice is always sincere and honest – and she gives me criticism when I deserve it. I feel very lucky to have found someone I can trust and model my career after. I would definitely suggest that everyone find that one person whose advice is given to you with the best of intentions. And once you have found this person, make sure to work hard to maintain the relationship. A mentor deserves your respect and thanks in return.

  14. MrsMoney says:

    I think mentors are invaluable. I love learning things about life from those who have been through a lot already. I feel that if I ask them questions, I can prevent costly mistakes in my life! :)

  15. Very inspiring article! When expressing your goals, you are closer to achieving them. Most of us just live our lives with out deciding what we really want. And this is what a mentorship is excellent for, making you think, decide and reflect while someone is listening – in most cases that is equivalent to achieving.

    You can have formal and informal mentorship relations. The informal is when the mentor is not aware of their position. And we all have had them, some unconsciously.

    As the founder of Mentory – a free global mentorship community. My goal is making it possible for everyone to experience the gift of giving as a mentor and learning and achieving as a protégé.

    We use mentors for different subjects formal, informal and sometimes unconsciously – often our teachers. Some may inspire us in our carrier, others in our dreams and finally strength us as individuals.

  16. Diana says:

    I have always been a little envious of those people who just seemed to have so many opportunities that I didn’t have. And, while this may sound like whining, the fact is, it was really just a lack of understanding how to develop relationship with people of like interests.

    Anyone who does something you wish you had the skill to do can be a mentor in some manner. My daughter is a master of developing such relationships. It seems natural for her to share her needs and interests with others, and listen to theirs. When she sees a fit, and likes them, she develops a relationship. Frequently, it is she who makes the first move to help them with a need, and it inevitably results in a benefit to her.

    She has learned to do stained glass (and been given many expensive tools and supplies in the process) and install a new motor in her old car, to mention only a few. Incidentally, the repair to her vehicle was not from a friendship she nutured directly, but through the wife of a mechanic. It was just one of those bonuses you wouild never expect.

    She stores information in her head, even if she hasn’t a personal need for it. Eventually, some may used to assist on a third party basis.

    In one case, for example, a good friend was losing her beautiful home on 40-acres because her husband fell sick with cancer. He has working part-time, but a long distance from their home. My daughter had previously rented a beautiful home in a gated community near where he was working. She knew the owner did not want to rent the place, but that it was vacant and probably the perfect thing for her friends. So, she contacted her previous landlord, explained the situation, and based upon her relationship with them, and the trust they had in her, they offered the couple a lease on the house for about half of the going rents in that complex.

    Where this kind of a situation exists, it is essential that there is a strong trust of all parties, since you could be blamed if things don’t work out.

    Whether by purposeful act, or simply offering to help someone that you know could help you, you can develop wonderful relationships and mentorships at the same time; it’s often a very fine line between the two.

    I have begun doing this in the past few years, too. I must say, my life has become richer for it in a number of unexpected ways. It has forced out of my previously self-imposed isolation, for one thing. I have also made some of the best friends of my life through the experience.

  17. Sue says:

    Excellent article, Trent. With approx 30 yrs experience in the workforce, and as competition for jobs/titles in the workplace increased with the downturn in the economy, I never really found a mentor I could trust until I went back to school and found some wonderful teachers who saw skills that I had long forgotten and hav econtinued to encourage me every day for the last year. Keep thinking, why did I wait so long? my advice to new students entering the workforce,’ideas are cheap–don’t expect your superiors to sell your ideas for you–it’s the execution that matters–and you have to have the courage to take the initiative to do it yourself’.

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