A career mentor is someone who shares their knowledge and expertise with you in order to help you set goals, fix problems, and make good choices along your career path. I have been privileged to have career mentors who have helped me throughout my career.
Career Mentors Teach About Business
The first was my supervisor many years ago. He taught me just about everything I know about business and about communicating effectively with people. He also helped me move up the career ladder at our company, helped with my job search, and continued to provide advice when I moved on.
Another person who mentored me was someone with vast experience writing about careers. When she and I first met, I had recently transitioned from Human Resources, and she shared her advice and wisdom. Over the years, she has also helped promote my expertise, my books, and my other work. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the assistance of my career mentors.
A good career mentor, just like my mentors, voluntarily provides career advice and assistance. The relationship you’ll have with your mentor will be ongoing—your mentor can guide you throughout the life of your career. It’s a relationship that can last a very long time. A mentor can be indispensable both when you're starting out and when you're moving up the career ladder.
How do you find a mentor? It can be easier than you think. Brian Kurth, founder, VocationVacations Career Mentorship Experiences, and author of "Test-Drive Your Dream Job: A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love," shares his tips and advice on finding a career mentor:
Who and How to Ask for Help
Perhaps the most important step in pursuing a dream job is to find someone who already works in that field who can offer guidance and advice as you proceed. I know that sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Believe it or not, this is not as difficult as it might sound.
In my experience, many people express fear at the prospect of asking a total stranger for help as a prospective mentor. Why would they want to help you, after all? The answer is easy: People like helping other people.
By asking a prospective mentor for help, you’re letting them know you admire them for what they do and that their career is in demand. It’s a good feeling, and many people are happy knowing their experiences and insights are valuable to others.
It’s not universal, of course, and not everyone will see it this way. You may run into a person you think might be a mentorship candidate who doesn’t care what people think and isn’t interested in helping you along your career path. But as you continue asking around, you'll be surprised at just how receptive many people are.
Of course, not all mentor candidates will be strangers. You may have a former boss, professor, family member, or friend who may be able to help you.
Tips for Finding a Good Career Mentor
Even with a few words of encouragement, the idea of searching for and finding a career mentor may seem scary, so here are a few tips to get you started:
- If you’re brand new or changing careers, it may be a good idea to research the field and find out about the top people who are in it.
- Learn what you can about their background, education, and even common interests.
- Create a list of people who seem like they might be good fits for you and your career goals.
- Start contacting the people on your list but go slowly with each one. Start with a polite and formal email to introduce yourself and see who responds.
- Be patient—your potential mentor candidates may be busy, and it could take a day or two for any of them to respond.
- Try to form a relationship with them and get to know their personalities even as you try to exhibit yours. Like so many other things, when you find the right mentor, you'll know it.
The guidance and advice from a good career mentor may be just what you need to guide you through your next set of career steps. Good luck, and who knows—maybe someday someone will be contacting you to be their mentor.