How to Connect With a Mentor

career start personal development May 04, 2022

Why mentorship?

Mentorship is one of the most important relationships a young professional can have. A mentor provides guidance, support, and advice when needed, and can help you navigate your career in the right direction. If you're looking for a mentor, or if you've been a mentor of other young professionals, consider these tips to make the most out of the relationship. 

As we get started there are two things to keep in mind. First, if you could find a good mentor, there's probably nothing that is going to help your career more. Second, if you can mentor someone, you may find it to be one of the most rewarding aspects of your career. 

What is mentoring?

Mentoring, in my experience, is when one person, usually a senior or more experienced person, assumes a teaching role with a more junior or inexperienced person for the primary purpose of bettering the person being mentored. A key here is that mentoring is a relationship between the mentee and the mentor. It means spending quality time with each other. 

What should I look for in a mentor?

So one really important thing is that in this relationship there's a connection between the two people. If one of the people loathes being with the other person it won't work. They each have to enjoy the experience to get the most from it.

Formal mentoring programs and why I don't like them.

This leads me to a formal mentoring program and why I don't like them. Formal mentoring programs are where companies make assignments and say okay you manager, you're going to be a mentor and Jane will be your mentee. I've never really seen a formal mentoring program work well. One of the reasons is that they don't consider this relationship that needs to be between the two. It may work, but I think a lot of times they're a waste of time.

Informal mentoring programs work better.

What I'm going to talk about is an informal mentoring program. That's not something that the company makes you do. It's something that you do because you want to. In my professional life, I've had several informal mentors and each has taught me things, more often by example, than discussion. It's helped me immensely.

In a recent podcast, I mentioned Colonel Ed Lesnowicz who I consider a mentor during my time in the Marine Corps. We would chat in his office after normal working hours and after each one, I came out more informed and also more motivated to do my job. When I left the Marine Corps, the first vice president that I worked for, outside of the Marines, was Joe Turcheck. He was also a mentor. Just like Colonel Lesnowicz, he would welcome me into his office after hours. I learned so much about business that I would not have learned, so quickly, without his mentorship. 

How do I find a mentor?

If you're a junior person, and you want a mentor, how do you find somebody? Well, I recommend you look around at the people you respect and who you've seen have more knowledge than you in the area in which you want to learn and grow. You could also, if you have an HR department in your company, see if they could recommend somebody But, I think the best way to do it is to look at yourself.

Then how do you get that person to be a mentor? Well, you ask them! It's just as simple as that. I recommend you do it in an email or some other way that gives that person the time to consider the request. You don't want to put them on the spot, "Hey, Bob, will you be my mentor?" Because it takes some time to be a mentor. They need to consider other commitments and whether they can take on this sort of responsibility. Let them know, though, that you're open to meeting before or after normal business hours if that's more convenient for them. This also makes it less likely that the meeting will be canceled for other commitments.

Should my boss be my mentor?

A couple of questions I've had is, should your boss be your mentor? Maybe, in some cases, it works well and your boss should always, as a good boss, be a mentor in some way. The only downside is that you may be struggling with something that involves your boss. In those cases, it would be good to have someone else that you could talk to.  

If you choose somebody besides your boss, will your boss wonder why? Nah, not if you have a good boss. In fact, your boss should be happy that you're seeking out additional sources of growth. He or she is going to benefit from that. Remember, your boss still remains a form of a mentor.

Can I have a mentor who does not work where I work?

Does your mentor have to be somebody where you work? Not necessarily, but it does help to have a mentor who understands the business that you're in. I recently met a young person in the healthcare profession, and while there were some things I could help her with, I realized I didn't know enough about her field to be a really good mentor. 

Is this the right mentor for me?

So, let's just say you've asked somebody to be your mentor and they said, "Well, yeah, maybe." What's the next step? Talk. The two of you need to get together and see if what you want and what they can provide will match.

Some of the things that you need to talk about are what you hope to get out of the relationship and the more specific the better. Is it technical skills such as computer programming or maybe you're interested in leadership or a management role? Let them know. No surprises. 

Discuss how often you would like to meet. Depending on schedules and what you're discussing, leaving time to prepare for each of these meetings, could be everything from weekly to every two to three months. I recommend that each meeting is about an hour-long so that you don't have to cut it short if you're discussing something really interesting. 

Finally, you want to make the decision whether there's a connection here and whether you enjoyed sitting down doing this initial discussion with this potential mentor. If you think there is, great. But, if after this discussion it appears that the mentor cannot provide what you want or doesn't have the knowledge or the time, I thank them. I will ask if they can recommend somebody else to me and then repeat the process. 

How do you build the mentorship?

If after the initial discussion you both decide to take on this relationship, what are your responsibilities as somebody being mentored? First, you must prepare for each of your meetings. That means you've done any homework assignments, you show up on time, and you're prepared to take notes. Second, let the mentor know your professional development plans and areas where you may be inexperienced. My recommendation is you tell them this before meeting so that the mentor can prepare. And third, and last, ask questions. You're not there as a potted plant and the mentor is not there to entertain you. 

It's never too late to have a mentor?

If you don’t have a mentor, it’s never too late to find one. Start by asking people you know and respect for recommendations. Once you’ve found someone, take the time to build a strong relationship with them. Be open to their feedback and be willing to put in the work required to make the most of your mentorship. And remember, being a mentor is just as important as being mentored – so pay it forward and help others on their own journey towards success. What has been your experience with mentorship?