January is National Mentoring Month, so if you’ve been considering seeking a mentor, now may be the perfect time. But the process does not need to be daunting. Here are six simple tips for starting a long-lasting mentor relationship today!
Know Where to Look. Throughout our personal and professional lives, we have opportunities to find mentors in many different places. You may find one within a professional or philanthropic organization like Step Up Women’s Network. Maybe there is a mentorship program at your company. Sometimes even our friends and family can lead us to a mentor. I’ve always found that the best way to find a mentor is to tell people you respect that you are looking for one. This may mean directly asking someone you admire, or even emailing your ‘mentor wish list’ to a trusted group of colleagues or friends to see if they know someone who may be a resource.
Think Outside the Box. When seeking a mentor, I suggest mentees keep an open mind! It’s not necessarily about finding someone who has a title you want or even a company you hope to work for someday. A valuable mentor may have honed a particular skill you admire or have experience overcoming specific challenges you are facing. We frequently tell the girls enrolled in our Step Up teen programs that their mentor may not even work in their target industry – it’s about finding that guide that you trust and relate to and that can help you grow in important ways. It’s also key to actively seek people who don’t look like you and are diverse in age, gender and industry. As women, we may have a tendency to seek women mentors, because we believe they’re best equipped to understand our unique challenges and situations. But there’s value in having an objective perspective, and someone who operates in different circles than you.
Approaching a Potential Mentor. Don’t let fear keep you from making progress! Being asked to be a mentor is an honor, and most women will feel that way. Perhaps over coffee or tea (or by the phone if it’s a long distance relationship), you can share some of the areas you have in mind for growth and ask her if she’d be willing to help you in these areas as a mentor.
Set Expectations. Since the key ingredient in the relationship is trust, both the mentor and the mentee must understand each other’s expectations and take care to meet them.
Follow Through and Build Trust. Since one of the basic rules is mentorship is that the mentor should only offer advice when asked, it’s up to the mentee to continue to drive the relationship. Be diligent about keeping in touch, updating your mentor on your progress in desired areas of growth and identifying new challenges. Mentors can also send signals that they are still invested in the relationship by sharing any relevant articles or job opening announcements or even reaching out with warm wishes for a birthday or special occasion. You sought out a mentor because you had specific goals and dreams for yourself. Since you’ve taken the first (and most difficult!) step in establishing that relationship, be sure to nurture it by following through. If the mentor sees how valuable her help is to you, she is likely to invest even more in you. By being accountable to your goals and actions, you’ll build that key element of a mentorship relationship: trust.
Pay it forward. As valuable an experience as being a mentee is, women tell us all the time that being a mentor is just as valuable. Women at all levels of their careers can serve as mentors, whether it’s with junior women in their own company, young women from within their own networks, or even teens in programs like Step Up. Young girls benefit tremendously from having mentors in their lives, both from the new skills and abilities it gives them, as well as the boost of confidence from having someone believe in and encourage you to reach your potential.
What other best practices would you add to this list? Let me know and keep me updated on your progress by leaving a comment below or tweeting me at @jenniluke.