Mentors are one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your development. And if you’re one of the many working for a company where training and development budgets are tight or even non-existent, taking the time to finally find yourself the right mentor is a win/win situation.
As far as professional mentoring goes, I’ve had the gamut of experience ranging from good, great, and a general waste of time. What I’ve learned through each experience is that professional mentoring relationships should be structured – you need to have a good plan of what you’d like to accomplish. Professional mentors aren’t necessarily life coaches, and they don’t come to the conversations with lesson plans like a teacher (well, unless you are REALLY lucky). Here are a few steps you can take to help ensure you find the right match:
1) Write Down the Top Two or Three Things You’re Looking to Improve
Maybe these are hard skills like gaining a better grasp of financial statements, budgeting or some area of the business you are unfamiliar with like marketing, etc. Perhaps your improvement areas might be more soft-skill areas, like becoming a better project manager or improving your public speaking skills. Either way, you should be as specific as possible in thinking about and identifying exactly what you’re looking to improve.
2) Identify Current Problems or Projects You Are Working on That Would Relate to These Development Areas
For example, do you have or do you manage a budget? Do you have an upcoming presentation? When you have specific examples, challenges or work in progress to reference, it can add a tremendous amount of value to the discussions you have with your mentor. Also, when you start to think about development in the context of your current projects, you may also uncover areas that you’d not initially thought of in step one. Having these current projects in mind as you search for your mentor can help keep you focused.
3) Reach Out to Respected Colleagues or Friends and Ask Them for Their Suggestions on a Mentor
Be sure to tell them exactly what expertise you are looking for in your future mentor. And, while you may have identified two or three development areas, be clear that you are seeking a mentor who could help in any one of those areas. Sometimes it makes sense to have two (or more) separate mentors, depending on the complexity of what you are trying to learn and develop, as well as the skill sets and time availability of the mentor(s) you find. You might also suggest that your referring friend or colleague contact the suggested person, to make sure they are amenable to the idea as well as to set the stage for your call.
4) Contact the Proposed Mentor(s)
When you call or email this person, it’s important to set the stage for success right at the beginning by being clear about expectations. Be upfront about what areas you’re looking to develop, how you believe their expertise would be of value and how often you were hoping to meet (an hour every other week for two to three months, etc.). This shows the potential mentor that you are organized, focused and will be an active part of the development conversations to come.
Luckily, finding a good mentor isn’t hard as long as you know what you’re looking for. And, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find not only a great professional mentor to help you grow and develop in the short-term, but you may also create a relationship that will benefit you both in years to come as well.
by Channon C.