Four Steps to Finding a Mentor

Identifying a professional mentor can result in a more successful career path and better worker satisfaction. 

Research reveals that professionals with a mentor experience: 1.) increased career promotions, 2.) improved mobility and opportunities, 3.) greater work-related satisfaction and success, and 4.) higher salaries than those without the benefit of a mentor (Allen, Eby, Poteet, Lentz, & Lima, 2004). Clearly, a mentor can be a significantly influential person in your professional life, and possibly in your personal life as well. Therefore, finding and choosing a mentor may be one of the most important career decisions you make. While the task may seem daunting, finding a mentor may not be that out of reach. By using a few proven strategies, you will find the person or persons who fit your needs and can help you grow.

Finding and choosing a mentor may be one of the most important career decisions you make.

First: start with you. The first place to start your search for a mentor is with yourself. By reflecting on your professional aspirations and perhaps in discussions with others, determine what you need from a mentor. This simple exercise will help you decide what roles you would like your mentor to undertake in your relationship. For example, research finds that the mentor roles most valued by proteges are (in order of importance): a) friend, b) acceptor, c) role model, and d) challenger.

  • As a friend, a mentor can provide necessary emotional support and encouragement. The importance of having a friend in the workplace cannot be overstated – particularly when that friend is an experienced, accomplished and caring colleague.
  • A mentor who provides professional reassurance and reinforces their protégé’s occupational choices is an acceptor.
  • A mentor who exhibits the values, attitudes and behaviors necessary to perform professional tasks serves as a role model.
  • Finally, a mentor who offers training and feedback to develop their protégé’s skills and knowledge so that they are able to take on difficult assignments later in their career is a challenger.

With an understanding of what you need and desire in a mentor, you are ready to actively seek one out.

Second: observe. Be alert and identify those whose style and work you admire. Observe what they do and listen to what they say. At this point, cast your net wide as you never know who could make a good mentor. After you have observed a few potential mentors, you will be able to narrow your search and confirm a strong candidate.

Third: ask for help. Once you have identified a strong candidate, approach them and ask for help on a specific topic. It can feel like an imposition to ask someone to “become a mentor,” so start small. The person you approach may be skilled in a particular task you would like to learn, be knowledgeable about a problem you are attempting to solve, or have successfully navigated an experience you are about to undertake. Most people enjoy sharing their expertise and helping others, particularly if it does not require a tremendous sacrifice of their time or resources. After assisting in one or possibly two areas and having gotten to know you a bit, they may be willing to serve as a mentor if asked.

Fourth: support from others. No one has all the answers, so don’t be timid in identifying where you need help and then asking for it. Ask for an introduction to a potential mentor, if needed. Your mentor may also provide suggestions as to others who may serve as guides in your professional journey.
Like all relationships, identifying and cultivating a mentor relationship requires a mutual bond based on shared personal values, interests and aspirations. Understanding your professional needs goes a long way in identifying potential mentors, and starting small allows you to quickly recognize a strong connection and cultivate a promising experience into a healthy, long-term relationship that benefits you both.

Allen, T., Eby, L., Poteet, M., Lentz, E. & Lima, L. (2004). Career benefits associated with mentoring for protégés: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 127-138.