What's a career mentor, and how can a mentor help you grow your career? 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.
If you're lucky, you'll have a mentor—or several—who will help you throughout your career, from your first roles through to retirement.
What Does a Career Mentor Do?
Often, but not always, a mentor may be a supervisor. A really great manager may demonstrate—or directly tell you—how the business world works, and how to be successful in it.
Not all managers make great mentors. If your manager isn't investing time in you, providing advice, or acting as your advocate, look elsewhere for a mentor.
How a Mentor Can Help Your Career
Here are some of the ways that mentors can help throughout your career:
- Showing or telling you the best way to communicate with colleagues, customers, and clients
- Serving as advocates for your career in your current role—that is, a mentor may help you move up the ladder at your workplace
- Helping with your job search
- Providing advice, insight, and wisdom
A good career mentor 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.
Who and How to Ask for Help
How do you find a mentor? It can be easier than you think. Gets tips and advice on finding a career mentor.
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. It sounds intimidating, but don't shy away from reaching out to potential mentors—even if you aren't previously acquainted.
People often express fear at the prospect of asking someone for help as a prospective mentor, but it's very likely that even a total stranger will respond positively.
Keep in mind that people like helping others, and this request is a real compliment.
By asking a prospective mentor for help, you’re letting them know you admire them for what they do and that their career experience is in demand. It’s a good feeling, and many people are happy knowing their experiences and insights are valuable to others.
Of course, you may run into a person you think might be a mentor candidate who isn’t interested in taking on the role. But as you continue asking around, you'll be surprised by just how receptive many people are.
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.
What to Look for In a Mentor
Some of the qualities to look for in a mentor include:
- Experience: Look for mentors who have flourished in their own careers.
- Compatibility: You'll want to seek out people with similar values, and only individuals who you feel comfortable with.
- Caring: While the relationship is a two-way street, as the mentee, you'll be getting a lot of value from it. Make sure to seek out people who are willing to put in the time and effort.
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 in it. Learn what you can about their background, education, and even common interests.
- Whether you're new to an industry, or have been in it a while, create a list of people who seem like they might be a good fit for you and your career goals. Keep your existing network of connections in mind. It's possible people you already know may make good mentors. Or they may be able to connect you with potential mentors.
- 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. In your email, you'll want to share a bit about what you admire about the person, details about where you are in your career, and some perspective on why this person would be a good mentor for you.
- Be patient. Your potential mentor candidates will likely 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 first person you connect with may not be the right fit, and that's OK.
The guidance and advice from a good career mentor may be just what you need to steer you through your next set of career steps. Good luck, and who knows—maybe someday someone will be asking you to be their mentor.
CAREER MENTORS PLAY A HELPFUL ROLE. A mentor can share insight and advice, helping you throughout your career.
DON'T BE SHY. Forming this relationship may involve reaching out to strangers in your industry, but most people will be flattered to be asked.
YOU MAY NEED TO ASK SEVERAL PEOPLE. The first person you reach out to may not respond—or may not be the right fit. Finding a mentor requires some patience.