Most people want to progress in their careers – whether it's to find more fulfilling job roles, money, power or prestige – but they often can't figure out what to do next to get there.
One option is to find a mentor, someone who can guide you through the next stage of your career development because they've already been through it. They've learned a lot along the way, and they can help you avoid mistakes and obstacles on your own journey to the top.
There are many benefits to having a mentor by your side, including supportive advice, valuable feedback from someone who knows your industry, as well as connections to potential employers or backers for a business venture.
If this sounds like a good idea, keep reading for 10 tips on how to find the right mentor to get your career moving forward.
1. Go Over Your Career Goals
First, you must decide exactly what your career goals are. A mentor can't help you take the necessary steps to your dream job if you haven't figured out what that ideal destination is. Take the time to consider your larger goals, like owning your own law firm or becoming the head of marketing, but you should also map out where you want to be in the next two to five years.
Be realistic about your skills and your desire to see a long-term plan through. Don't limit yourself to a traditional career path in your company, or only consider what positions make the most money. Think about what your passions are, what makes you excited to go to work in the morning and the situations or conditions that would cause you to lose enthusiasm for a job or the field it's in.
2. Decide What You Need from a Career Coach
Once you've figured out your exact career goals, you'll have to think about how you'd like a mentor or career coach to help you achieve them. Here are some questions to ask yourself before moving forward:
- Do you want someone who knows all the ins and outs of the company you work for?
- Are you looking for an expert in your field, someone you can learn from no matter what specific job role you take on?
- Would you prefer a paid career coach that is more readily available to answer all your questions, or do you want to possibly form a more personal connection with someone in your line of work whom you admire and respect?
- Are you looking for a mentor that has had some of the same work, family or cultural experiences as you?
One of the most important things to look for in a mentor is someone you can converse with easily. If you feel uncomfortable in their presence, or the conversation is stilted, or if they seem too rushed to deal with your issues, it's not going to be a satisfactory experience for either of you.
Jeff Goins, a best-selling author and popular blogger on career issues, suggests not just finding a mentor with a cool job, but someone you actually want to emulate. Look for a person with similar skills, interests and values who started on the same path you are and took it to a higher level.
3. Ask About Your Workplace's Mentorship Programme
One of the easiest ways to find a mentor for your career is to check into the career development options at your current place of work. In the US alone, 71% of Fortune 500 companies have a mentoring programme, so the odds are good that your business will have something in place. If they don't, talk to your boss or the human resources department and see if there is any interest in starting a mentorship programme.
Your company may have a few different options for mentoring, including basic career development, leadership and diversity programmes. If the system in place doesn't seem quite right for you, or if you're interested in expanding your career well beyond your current employer, consider looking for a mentor elsewhere.
4. Find Your Own Mentor at Work
Just because your company may not have an official mentoring programme in place, it doesn't mean you can't find a mentor at work. Your immediate supervisor may turn out to be a valuable career coach, or it could be someone from another department you connected with at a staff meeting. It's important to keep an open mind with anyone you interact with; there is always something to learn from others in your field, especially those in higher positions in the company.
Finding a mentor can begin with the same steps as making new friends at work. Take every opportunity to mingle with coworkers, whether in the break room, communal areas or at team-building events.
Once you find a potential career coach, take gradual steps to get to know them better. Don't immediately jump to asking someone to be your mentor; that can get awkward for both of you.
Working together makes it easy to find common ground with a potential adviser. Ask for their input on a project, or volunteer on a committee they're putting together. If they seem open to discussing work issues at length, try asking them out for a coffee, or treat them to lunch. Make the focus on their career at first and listen to their war stories; you'll often learn a lot just by hearing about their experiences.
5. Use a Professional Mentor Service
If there's no one you really connect with at work, or you need something that a workplace mentor can't assist you with – like putting together a CV for another job – consider using a locator service for mentors and career coaches.
The Career Development Institute (CDI), for example, offers the UK Register of Career Development Professionals online, so you can search for qualified career coaches and potential mentors in your area or perhaps find someone who can mentor you via online communication.
There are career coach services for every stage of your career, including sites like Mentorsme which offers mentoring for startups and small businesses. Be aware of the costs associated with hiring a coach, though, and find someone who can work within your budget.
There are a few other things you'll want to consider when selecting a career coach:
- Find someone who listens to your aspirations and concerns and tailors their advice to your needs.
- Look for a career coach who is always prepared with new suggestions and tasks for you to move forward.
- Consider a professional mentor who is well-informed on all the latest technology to help with job hunting, career planning and networking. You don't want someone stuck in the Stone Age advising you on the modern-day job market!
- Make sure your career coach will communicate with you regularly to keep you on the right path and deal with any difficulties that arise.
6. Scope Out Potential Career Coaches Online
There are two different areas of networking online: professional and social. Both can be used to find a potential business mentor or to research a contact you've met through any kind of meetup.
You may be wondering how to find a mentor on sites like Twitter and Facebook, where passionate political arguments, movie quotes and cat memes occupy the same space. Social media is global, with an overwhelming number of users, but they tend to congregate into likeminded groups. Once you find a few people in your niche and you search their follow lists, you can easily connect with a wider network.
The beauty of social sites is that the conversation is easy and casual, and you can find a select group that shares not only your profession but also your love of Game of Thrones, margarita recipes and… cat memes.
There's a lot more potential to finding a career coach who could also be your friend. Just be sure to avoid common social media mistakes, like posting something inappropriate that could cost you a job later.
LinkedIn is the most widely known professional networking site, but there are also other options like LetsLunch where you can find people in your field to meet up with and share ideas.
One of the benefits of having a mentor is gaining a wide network of contacts that could have taken you years to build. Using one of these professional sites can give you a good view of how connected your potential career coach is. It also makes it easy to contact them, either for online communication or to get together in person.
7. Attend Events Related to Your Field
You'll need all of your social and networking skills for this one. Attending work-related conferences, seminars, awards dinners and similar types of events are a great way to find a mentor.
While the keynote speaker may be a business icon and your dream mentor, however, remember that a lot of attendees will have the same idea. It will be a lot easier to converse with someone sitting next to you at a lecture or partnered up with you in a team-building exercise.
Here are a few tips for making the most of these events:
- Research potential candidates to help you think of icebreaker topics that are relevant to their business or something they've recently achieved.
- Bring business cards so you can easily share your contact information.
- Try to connect with anyone who's taken part on a panel, led a training course or had any part in planning the event. These are people who have already shown a desire to help others and to share their knowledge, which makes them perfect mentor material.
8. Think Outside the Box
If you want to figure out how to find a career coach outside the obvious industry events, think about more ordinary places where people in your field might congregate. This could include fitness centres, country club or a favourite deli in the business district or a bar across from a full block of car dealerships.
Depending on your career path, volunteer work at a school, museum or for a charity can also introduce you to influential people and potential mentors.
9. Let the Mentor Find You
Work hard, take on special projects and interact well with your colleagues, and you could draw the attention of a mentor. Those who publish, or present creative works to the public, can also catch the eye of professionals who will help them take their career to the next level.
Be courteous with anyone who compliments the job you're doing, and be ready to discuss your goals and ambitions if they offer to advise you.
10. Follow up on Every Contact
If you want to get a mentor for your career, you must follow up. Just making contact with someone at work or at a conference isn't enough; you have to maintain that connection.
Send an email mentioning your last meeting and attempt to set a date for another. Remember to consider your mentor's typical schedule and lifestyle and avoid choosing a time or place they would find inconvenient or inappropriate.
Continue to make the effort. Your mentor has a more powerful position and likely more responsibilities and time commitments, so it will often be on you to set future meetings and to follow up.
Always be prepared with specific questions and concerns so you're not wasting their valuable time. Make sure they know you appreciate their career guidance, with anything from a handwritten ‘thank you’ note to an expensive lunch.
Our last piece of advice is to not limit yourself to one mentor. It's always good to have multiple connections to help you advance your career, and each will have different skills and experiences to assist you with your goals.
Do you have a mentor that has taken you to the next level in your profession? Join the discussion below and share your story on how you met your perfect career coach!