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BY Joel Junker

How To Choose A Mentor — And How To Ask

Do you know how to choose a mentor? Perhaps one of the most effective ways to assure your career development is to find and leverage a good mentor — or several. Even Roger Cameron, the founder of the JMO recruiting industry and Cameron-Brooks, used to say, “You will not reach your potential and move up within an organization…” and then he would pause for effect (something he did often — for effect), and say, “unless other people want you to get there.”

If you want to grow, develop, and move up, you need help from others via advice, counsel, feedback, and encouragement. In our Cameron-Brooks Podcast, Above and Beyond we speak candidly with alumni about his/her career success, lessons learned, and failures. A common thread in most conversations is the importance of mentors.

However, the biggest stumbling block can simply be knowing how to ask. Here are a few suggestions on how to choose a mentor:

  1. Don’t limit yourself to one person. I know several professionals who have a personal board of directors, three or four people they meet with regularly to talk about professional and personal goals and challenges.
  2. Look in your own company. It would be good to have someone inside your workplace (besides your direct supervisor) and at a higher level than you because they likely know how to navigate the company policies for promotions, education, and development, have insight into a variety of career paths, and can also put you in touch with other people in the company.
  3. Choose someone you look up to, respect and aspire to be like. This is a solid gauge for determining a great mentor — whether in leadership or industry knowledge.
  4. Don’t let proximity limit your options. You may have a mentor that is halfway across the globe.  One of our Alumni is in Connecticut and his mentor is in California. They talk on the phone quarterly.

Another reason most people hesitate to ask for mentorship is that they know the person is already busy. Here’s the big secret: most people want to mentor. They just need to be asked! Here are two tips on how to ask someone to be a mentor:

  1. Make a plan. Contact the mentor and set a time to talk. Let the person know you want to meet to talk about professional development. Be straightforward: “I am looking for a mentor to help with …”.  Be sure to have two to three specific areas such as requesting help with providing constructive feedback to team members, career planning, or a functional skill. You just don’t want to ask, “Will you be my mentor?” because the person will just ask you, “What do you need help with?” Most importantly this shows the person that you will drive the relationship ensuring that you are prepared and will not waste his or her time. And quite honestly, you really do need to go into a mentorship knowing how you want to leverage that particular mentor’s talents and knowledge.
  2. Set the expectations. Let the person know you recognize his or her time is valuable and that you will be sure to have an agenda for each meeting. Ask the person how often he or she thinks it is realistic to talk or meet. This way, the person understands the commitment.

In the end, if they say “No,” it’s okay. You don’t want someone committing that isn’t fully vested in your growth.

Knowing how to choose a  mentor — and how to ask —  is the first step. Just remember as you advance in your career, make yourself available to pay it forward and mentor other people. “Give and then you shall receive.”