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.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.