Finding a Mentor



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Today I was working with someone focused on a job transition.  She asked a question I hear frequently from clients who know that mentorship is important to their careers but don’t know how to engage them.She asked:

Thinking about THE job (not just any job), I have worked through all your recommendations but mentorship. I'm stalled out. When I look at peers with similar career goals, many are now big successes in the industry, but find myself hesitant in approaching them and asking for help. I don't want to be perceived as needy. But my hesitation also stems from not really knowing the right phrases to use that would make them want to engage. I need your help in this area and so I can follow-through of this job hunting step.

This is an important question. So many people I speak to are struggling in their approach to finding mentors and are ending up disappointed, frustrated, or confused.Here are some insights I can share about finding great mentors and making the most of the help you receive:

1. Work inside out. 

To find great mentors, you don’t want to reach out to people outside your network. That’s not how you’ll find them. Generally speaking, when you find the right mentor, it is obvious. Chasing or forcing a connection rarely works.Start inside out. Find mentors among the people you’re already interacting and working with now. They need to be people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential. They know how you think, act, communicate and contribute. They have to like, trust and believe in you already (why else would they help you?). They also need to believe with absolute certainty that you’ll make use of all their input and feedback.Strangers (or those who’ve become “big” successes, as the individual above mentions) will virtually always have to say “no” to mentoring requests from strangers. Why? Because their time is already spoken for, and they’re drowning in similar requests. Secondly, they don’t have a relationship with you, and therefore can’t know how you operate or if it’s a great investment of their time to help you.Find your mentors among the people you know who are 10 steps ahead of you in your field, role, or industry, doing what you want to, in the way you want to. Connect with new people who you can help, and who will find it a mutually-rewarding and beneficial experience to support you. If you don’t know of any inspiring people that fit this bill, you need to go out and find them. Here are some great tips from Kerry Hannon about finding a mentor, and from Judy Robinett about networking that generates amazing results.

2. Connect

Develop a relationship. Start small.  Follow their work. Be helpful and supportive. Be generous. Tweet out their posts, comment in a positive way on their blogs, share their updates, start a discussion on LinkedIn drawing on their post, refer new clients or business to them, and the list goes on. In short, offer your unique voice, perspectives, experiences, and resources to further the action and conversation that these influencers have sparked. Understand that you are able to be of service to them, and go out and do it. Be a builder. Build on their foundation and extend it.Don't ask for mentoring directly.

3. Prepare.

Attracting mentoring has a lot to do with how you operate in your career and your life. Would you want to mentor you? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn? Are you committed to adjusting how you interact in the world so you can achieve your goals?You have to be in process. A car going 60 miles an hour is faster than one starting from 0-60. Be someone who is already actively building his/her career. Demonstrate that every day, to yourself first.

  • Be great at what you do; people want to invest in someone with momentum.
  • Ask for more responsibility.
  • Know how you can contribute.
  • Be prepared, volunteer.
  • Promote others' successes.
  • Build a support network by learning what others do and how you can help them succeed.

4. Empathize.

Walk a mile their shoes. If you were in their seat, what would you want to see from this individual asking for help? If you had multiple requests for help every day, what type of person would YOU choose to assist, and why? Go out and become that person that others would love to support and nurture.

The bottom line?

The answers to all your networking and career-building questions aren’t as far away as they seem. They’re right inside of you. Sometimes that can seem like an unsatisfying answer since we look outside ourselves most of the time.Imagining yourself in the shoes of those you deeply respect and admire, who’ve had fabulous success in the same ways you want it helps point you in the right direction. Then imagine your “future self” already achieving this tremendous success. Ask your future self what to do. And always conduct yourself — in life and in work — as one who is doing all that’s necessary to attract (and offer) fabulous, high-level help and support.