How to Find a Mentor Who’s Right for You
“Every kid needs a mentor. Everybody needs a mentor.” — Donovan Bailey, sprinter
“It’s wonderful to work with someone with mentor status.” — Madeleine Peyroux, jazz singer
Finding a mentor could mean the difference between the savvy and the clueless when it comes to college life. And it’s not always easy to find one that’s willing to work with you. A good mentor dispenses knowledge, advice, and teaches through their collective experiential knowledge. While it’s possible to accidentally stumble onto a life-changing mentor, stack the odds of finding the right sage in your favor. Here’s how:
Mentor: A Definition
The original mentor was one of Homer’s creation. In The Odyssey, when Odysseus leaves to fight the Trojan War, Mentor was trusted to care for the kingdom of Ithaca, as well as teaching the king’s son, Telemachus.
Leaving the land of epic poetry for the land of collegiate life, think of a mentor as an advisor-coach. A mentor is a guide — a trusted counselor.
How to Find a Mentor
On finding a mentor, Baylor University accounting graduate Bradley “Bones” Parker says, “The best advice I’ve ever gotten is to find someone who has a job you want and make them tell you all their secrets.” In business or academics, this is good policy.
- Look around you. Which professor, administrator, or graduate student do you admire the most? If given the option, whose brain would you like to pick? Identify potential mentors in your current environment; you’re more likely to be successful if you don’t have to start from scratch.
- Ask. Think of the best way to access this person to ask if they’re interested in mentoring you. If you know them well, informal proposals are OK. If they’re someone you’re not well-acquainted with, find a more formal way of introducing yourself. Let them know whyyou’ve identified them as a potential mentor. Make no mistake: flattery can get you far.
- If that doesn’t work…. Identify the character and career traits you admire in those you hold in high esteem. Seek out people that embody these traits, and those that might be available to you for mentoring. Formally contact likely candidates.
- It’s all about you. When looking for a mentor, there is no set formula. Make sure that you’re asking yourself the right questions. What do you need to get out of the experience? Do you want an academic mentor, or a career mentor? Are you prepared to contribute something meaningful in exchange for mentorship? Knowing what you seek and why is the first step to mentoring success.
Finding a mentor could be as easy as making an appointment with your favorite professor or sending an e-mail to a public figure you respect. Internet mentoring does happen — but my advice is finding a trusted source with which you can have face time. Active listening and verbal communication can often lead to information synthesis at a higher rate (read: Face Time = learn more, faster).
- Don’t be cute. I’ve had several mentors, and I often function as an interim mentor a few younger friends. One of the best pieces of advice I can share is this: Be direct. Ask; don’t dance. Juvenile tactics for garnering attention are off-putting and trite. If you want something, ask for it. Don’t beat around the bush.
A mentor is not your best friend, and you don’t particularly need them to like you. They don’t need to validate your actions; if you’re listening to them, you will consider their advice and make decisions accordingly. Friendly affection and closeness with a mentor should develop organically; there is absolutely no need to manufacture it. Don’t manipulate your way onto someone’s radar screen — it’s preferable and more purpose-driven to be up front about your desire for their counsel.
Who needs a mentor?
Short answer? Everyone. While mentors are not a necessity of life or a guarantee of success, think of it like standing on the shoulders of giants — you are conversing with and learning from those that came before you, for your specific benefit. And this giant is one that’s altruistic, and actually cares about your process, direction, and ultimate success.
HerCampus: How to Find a Mentor in College
Forbes: How To Find A Mentor
IMDiversity: How to Find A Mentor
The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: 44 Ways to Find A Mentor