How to find a mentor at any career level

Two cartoon people talking as mentor and mentee

Seventy-six percent of professionals feel that mentors are important or very important, yet only 37% of professionals have a mentor right now. Clearly, a lot of people who want career guidance are left wondering how to find a mentor in the first place.

The majority (61%) of mentor-mentee relationships develop naturally and when the mentee is still at a junior level. If that hasn’t happened in your career, it’s time to be proactive in finding mentorship. This means doing your homework and formally asking somebody for their long-term guidance.

That last step, particularly the approach and ask, can feel daunting. The good news? A Stanford survey found that nearly 100% of CEOs reported that they enjoyed receiving coaching and leadership advice themselves. They won’t be off put when asked to return the favor. If you’re ready to take that first step, here’s everything you need to know to find a mentor.

What can a mentor do for you?

The word “mentor” comes from a character in Homer’s The Odyssey. Before leaving to fight in the Trojan War, King Odysseus asks his friend, Mentor, to guide and teach his son.

Mentorship is defined as “a professional working alliance in which individuals work together over time to support the personal and professional growth, development, and success of the relational partners through the provision of career and psychosocial support.”

There are clear benefits for both mentors and mentees. A five-year study of one company’s mentorship program found:

  • 25% of mentees increased their salary, compared to just 5% of employees without a mentor
  • 28% of mentors increased their salary, compared to 5% of those who didn’t have mentees
  • Mentees were promoted 5x more often than those without a mentor
  • Mentors were promoted 6x more often than those who didn’t participate in mentorship

A CNBC survey also found that employees with mentors are happier at their jobs: 9-in-10 say they're satisfied or very satisfied at work.

Types of mentors

The process of how to find a mentor starts with understanding the different types of mentors that exist. Learning how to find a mentor in the workplace can be very different from, say, looking for a personal growth mentor.

Mentors have various strengths, weaknesses, and approaches to mentorship. Some types of mentors you might encounter are:

  • Guide: Can steer you away from pitfalls and guide you through challenges.
  • Coach: Provides motivation and positive feedback
  • Counselor: Helps develop a career plan and outlines skills, knowledge, and abilities that are necessary to it
  • Sponsor/Advocate: Champions the ideas of the mentee and helps with exposure through networking
  • Role model: Teaches by example

Watch: The Difference Between Mentors & Sponsors (And How to Foster the Relationship)

Some mentorships may involve some or all of these different roles. It can be useful to look for multiple mentors for different areas of your career. This is less demanding than relying on an all-in-one relationship.

Establish your mentorship goal

Go into a mentorship relationship with long-term and short-term goals. This will help make the relationship fruitful. Your mentor can better guide you if you tell them exactly what you want. Envision your future and dream big. Break your lofty dreams into short-term (three to five years) goals. Ask yourself:

  • What is the typical path for your long-term dream career?
  • What soft skills do you need to build immediately?
  • What’s the ideal next job on your career path?
  • What skills and experience do you need to move to your next position?
  • What specific achievements or successes do you need to advance over the years?

Who do you look up to?

Consider the people that you admire. Look at someone 10 to 15 years ahead of you in your industry. Have they already achieved what you want? If you want to know how to find a mentor in business, ask yourself if there is anyone at your workplace that you view in this way. Perhaps there’s someone in upper management that shares aspects of your identity or background. They might understand your experience and be able to guide you through specific challenges you might face.

Go through your Rolodex

OK, no one uses a Rolodex anymore. Still, you should take advantage of your network to find your mentor. If your potential mentor is someone you know and who knows you, it makes the ask so much easier. Look to former colleagues or bosses as potential mentors. Even if you no longer work with them, make contact with your favorite boss of all time. Or ask current and former colleagues to see who’s good at mentorship.

Join online mentorship groups

You can always approach someone you don’t know with the hope of their becoming your mentor, but know that it takes time and relationship-building work. That said, there are plenty of mentorship-focused online groups and platforms where you can expect to find people who’ve already indicated interest in mentorship. Some of these individuals will undoubtedly be professional career coaches who expect you to pay them for their time and expertise, but you can form organic, non-paid mentorship relationships online, as well. Some places to look include:

Make the ask

Remember that you’re asking for a favor from this person. Mentorship requires time and energy. Avoid asking your potential mentor via email, text, or chat. Request a face-to-face meeting and be clear that you’re looking for advice.

In your meeting, address these key points:

  • What you admire about this person and their work
  • Why you’ve chosen this person as a potential mentor
  • Your enthusiasm for growth and desire to learn from their experience
  • Clear goals, objectives, and expectations for the mentorship
  • Time commitment (how many times a month will you meet? For how long?)

Be clear on which specific areas you’re seeking mentorship on; a too-general “I need overall career mentorship” pitch can sound either 1. disorganized or 2. like too big an ask. Be specific, and make it clear that you respect their time. Don’t ask them to give you an answer on the spot; let them consider it. Follow up later with a phone or video call.

Get the most out of mentorship

The best mentorship happens when mentors and mentees trust each other, identify with, and authentically engage with each other. To create this kind of relationship, there are things both the mentor and mentee can do:

  • Align expectations: Establish expectations early on in the initial ask. Both of you should know your goals, what you want, and what kind of commitment it requires.
  • Maintain open communication: Meet regularly at scheduled times. Keep meetings personal by meeting through video chat or face-to-face. Don’t hesitate to share your strengths, limitations, and struggles with your mentor. But remember — this isn’t therapy. Come with specific questions or challenges that your mentor can address.
  • Be open to feedback: When your mentor gives you advice or feedback, accept it. Your mentor will get frustrated if they’re giving you advice only for you to not act on it and run into the same challenges. Accepting feedback also applies to compliments and constructive criticism.
  • Facilitating mentee agency: While you should be open to feedback, your mentor should also facilitate your own agency and decision-making.
  • Manage up: Make things as easy as possible for your mentor. Schedule the meetings, provide meeting topics, monitor your own progress, take notes in meetings. Drive the relationship as much as possible.

How to find a mentor? First, know what you want

A critical part of finding a mentor is doing your homework. Envision what you want, have an idea of what it takes to get there, and be clear on what you need. Once that’s figured out, look around the landscape of your life for people you look up to. Think about professional, personal, and identify-based dynamics. The ideal is to have some existing connection to your mentor, but you can approach anyone you want. Just make sure you’re as transparent and specific when you ask for mentorship. If you prefer a community environment for your growth, check out PowerToFly’s community space.

Further learning:

27 companies with impressive mentorship opportunities

6 tips for making the most of mentorship

Watch: Tips for finding the perfect mentor (for you)

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