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Tips on Finding a Mentor

Tips on Finding a Mentor

Mentorship is an important part of the journey for people navigating the world of business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re just out of college or you’re starting your third company. The right mentor can be invaluable to your success.

Here is what current business leaders say about the importance of having a mentor in the modern era, and some tips to find one that will give you the guidance you need.

My Old School

If you were an industrious student – or even if you weren’t – you can contact teachers or professors from your time at school and connect with them for advice or input.

“One of the greatest people you could ever ask to be your mentor is old professors,” said Ryan Solomon, CEO of Kissmetrics. “People in academia understand the importance of having someone guide you professionally. Professors have a close relationship with you and know your work ethic along with a myriad of other characteristics you possess. Send them an email and ask if you can catch up and have them walk you through some of their insights of the field you are interested in.”

Some professors won’t have much to say about the technical details of your career, but they can be a helpful source of wisdom, nevertheless.

In the Workplace

It’s the most obvious place to look for a mentor, so why not start in the office where you show up and work every day? There will likely be experienced staff members willing to help.

“There is no better place to start looking for a mentor than from your employer,” said Joshua Tatum, Co-Founder of Canvas Cultures. “If you have a manager that is always helpful or a supervisor that sees the effort you put into your work, then you should reach out to them about helping you map out your career path. If you are working in a field that you wish to stay in, you might as well learn from people who you are already comfortable with in the first place rather than remaking connections.”

Treat coworkers with respect and keep things professional, because you might eventually be working side by side.

Established Connections

It doesn’t make much sense to ask for advice from someone you barely know. The same thing goes for mentorship. Sometimes, it’s best to stick with the people you know already.

“If you are wanting a mentorship then you should always look for people who you already have some sort of relationship with,” said Carrie Derocher, CMO of TextSanity. “If you look for friends or peers that are in a field you wish to be a part of, then reach out to them regarding a professional relationship that can help you map out your career path.”

Close friends aren’t always the best mentors, of course, so choose wisely.

Pledging Time

Is there an activity or commitment in your life that attracts like-minded people who have their intentions in the right place?

Charities, churches, non-profits – these are all good places to seek mentorship.

“If you are someone that does a lot of volunteer work, then it is a good idea to speak with people in the organizations in which you volunteer,” said Jeffery Brown, President of Big Fig Mattress. “People within these organizations have great insight into a myriad of functions in everyday life. Ask people that volunteer with you about the fields they work in and if they can help you discuss ways to get your foot in the door.”

These folks are usually kind at heart and know their stuff.

Social Networking

We all know that social media is hit or miss for making legitimate business connections, but if you know what you’re doing and act smart, it can be a good place to start.

“Social media has become a great way to connect with people in a field you may have interest in. If you cycle through LinkedIn, you will find hundreds of people who work in the field you wish to be in too,” said Steve O’Dell, Co-Founder and CEO of Tenzo Tea. “You should not feel shy and simply reach out to them so that they get to know you a little more. Introduce yourself and see if you can pick their brain a bit about their background and how they got into the field that they are within. This lets your name get out there and for you to learn more about the field itself too.”

Networking on social media is becoming more of an everyday thing now, so it’s time to jump at the opportunities.

Veteran Perspectives

If someone is in your direct peer group or just a year or two older, they might not be the best mentor at the moment. Look for folks with more experience and perspective.

“Build connections with people who have been in the business longer than you and take the time to learn from them,” said Vincent Bradley, CEO and Co-Founder of Proper Wild. “You can do this through networking events, through your university, or organically throughout your life. Once you find a mentor, heed their advice and learn from their experiences.  Learning from my mentor, Mark Dyne, has been more valuable to me than any MBA.”

Generally speaking, you want your mentor to be one generation senior to you, maybe 10 or 15 years apart.

Open to the Idea

Let’s face it – some of us just aren’t ready to be mentored, and should focus on improving ourselves before reaching out to someone for help.

“To find a mentor, you have to allow yourself to be open to mentorship,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “There’s no use in pretending to be the smartest guy in the room all the time. When you show that you are willing to learn and gain insights, those in your industry will take notice and be excited to have conversations with you to help you grow and succeed in business.”

You’ll know when it’s the right time to form a mentorship connection; don’t rush it.

Mutual Connections

It’s the old friend-of-friends dynamic that has formed so many relationships over the years. Be social, take initiative, and you never know who you will meet.

“Mentors can be invaluable to have in life and in business,” said Grant Hosking, Co-Founder of Total Hydration. “Some great ways to find mentors include being introduced to them by mutual acquaintances, or you can also seek them out yourself. Networking at professional events, or online on LinkedIn or any other site that might relate to your business is a great way to find the right mentor for you.”

It never hurts to ask around and be the one to introduce yourself.

Make an Effort

On the subject of reaching out, this is something that too many people overlook when trying to find a mentor. At the end of the day, you’ve got to spark a connection and make it a priority.

“You need to show some initiative and prove that you’re someone worth mentoring,” said Eric Wu, COO and Co-Founder of Gainful. “Be motivated, be coachable, and reach out to new people all the time. The right connection is rarely going to just appear before your eyes.”

You can’t expect much to happen in life if you simply sit on the sidelines.

Play Both Parts

The mentorship tradition is one that passes the torch down through the generations. Find a mentor you trust, and be ready to step up to the plate for someone else down the road.

“I’ve been mentored in the past, and I’ve mentored others as well,” said Dr. Robert Applebaum of Applebaum MD. “It’s two sides of the same coin. Often the best mentors are those who had mentors of their own.”

It’s all about give-and-take in the business world, and mentorship is a prime example.

Genuine Interest

If you and your mentor are just “phoning it in” and not making any real progress on your goals, it’s probably a sign that one or both of you just aren’t fully invested. Genuine interest is all-important.

“I think the greatest thing we give each other is encouragement – knowing that I’m talking to someone in this mentoring relationship who’s interested in the big idea here is very, very important to me,” said American Businesswoman Anne Sweeney. “I think if it were just about helping me get to the next step, it would be a heck of a lot less interesting.”

When the connection is authentic, it’s more meaningful and effective in getting results.

Stay Focused

Looking for a mentor shouldn’t be your full-time job. It should only take up a small portion of your time each week, and can’t eclipse other key parts of your career and life.

“If you focus on your own mission and treat people right along the way, you’ll interface with people who share your interests and think about things the same way as you,” said Jonathan Snow, COO and Co-Founder of The Snow Agency. “The next step is to reach out and make a connection. Be upfront and ask real questions. Things will work out.”

The people who are fully focused on success often find it easier to connect with others when it comes to making things happen in business.

Multiple Mentors

Why settle for just one mentor when there are so many people who can prove helpful to your cause? You’ve got the technology at your fingertips, and this can be done more efficiently than ever.

“You can have several different mentors in your network who are experts in certain areas, and who can give you advice on particular things in business and life,” said Dr. Pooneh Ramezani, CEO and Co-Founder of Dr. Brite. “With such a vast network available via the internet, why not reach out to as many people as possible?”

Remember not to overbook yourself or leave people hanging – that’s always bad form.

Real Experience

People make a lot of big claims and talk themselves up in the business world. Just be sure that when you seek mentorship, you connect with people who can support those claims.

“Coaches and mentors can be helpful, but only if they have the real-world experience to back it up,” said Guna Kakulapati, Co-Founder and CEO of CureSkin. “Don’t just sign up for programs or courses because someone has the right look or marketing. Look deeper and find out what they’re all about.”

Paying for mentorship is controversial, and it’s often best to find someone willing to help you out at no charge.

The Reason Why

Mentorship sounds good on paper and we’ve all seen those heartwarming movies, but do you really need a mentor right now, and why?

“Ask yourself why you even want or need a mentor in the first place, and things will make a lot more sense to you,” said Jordan Smyth, CEO and Founder of Gleamin. “This requires looking in the mirror and being honest about where you’re at in your career and life in general.”

Before you launch any new venture or pursuit, it always helps to do some self-reflection.

Temper Expectations

Are you expecting your mentor to make tough decisions while you sit back and take notes? That’s the opposite of how it really works, so know that going in.

“Recognize that having a mentor isn’t a quick fix or a cure-all for your problems,” said Chris Gadek, Head of Growth at AdQuick. “You might get some useful guidance or support during tough times, but you’re still going to need to put in the work and learn lessons for yourself.”

The best mentors will point you in the right direction but hold you to a higher standard of performance when push comes to shove.

No Micromanagement

In a similar vein, you shouldn’t be texting or emailing a mentor with every question or idea that pops into your head. They are supposed to be a mentor, not a babysitter!

“Sometimes the best mentors are people who you only interact with occasionally,” said Brandon Monaghan, Co-Founder of Miracle Brand. “They don’t always need to be by your side or looking over your shoulder, but they can give you that perfect piece of advice when you need it most.”

Micromanagement is not only unnecessary – it simply doesn’t work 99% of the time.

Beyond Your Business

It’s easy to find potential mentors in your industry or down the hall in the corner office, but these people in your vicinity aren’t always going to be the most effective mentors.

“The best mentors are often not in your business, or even your industry, for that matter,” said Mike Pasley, Founder of Famous IRL. “Look beyond your immediate surroundings and you might find unlikely sources of inspiration and guidance.”

Use the internet to your advantage and look into different areas of expertise to find unique and helpful perspectives.

Moving On

Every sun must set, as they say. It’s not reasonable to expect the same mentor to stick with you throughout your whole career, and vice versa.

“You can have different mentors at different stages of your career, depending on your situation and your goals at the time,” said Kelli Lane, CMO of Genexa. “Everyone matures, everyone changes. That’s just a part of the deal. Stay in contact with mentors but don’t hesitate to move on if you need to.”

Don’t burn bridges or be rude, but it’s okay to say you no longer need someone’s guidance. Say thanks and move on.

Challenge Yourself

Whether you have a mentor currently or you’re still trying to find one, remember that you can only make the most of mentorship if you’re constantly pushing yourself to perform.

“A great mentor will always ask what’s next, what else you can do to level up your career or pursue new goals,” said Denis Hegstad, Co-Founder of LiveRecover. “You won’t get much value out of this relationship if you’re doing the minimum effort.”

Motivation isn’t always easy to come by, but a mentor can help you  find that extra boost when you need it.

Real Talk

A lot of mentor relationships are just time-wasters, and that’s because people usually hear what they want to hear instead of getting real, applicable input.

“Watch out for people who sugar-coat their advice and never give you a straight answer,” said Ben Teicher, President of Healthy Directions. “You might like what they have to say, but is that input really helping you improve and take on bigger challenges? That can sometimes be difficult to decipher.”

True mentors won’t waste your time with advice that doesn’t work, even if it seems a bit harsh at the time.

No Need to Ask

You’re going to have that weird moment where you wonder if someone is really your mentor or something else. When you know, you know – don’t overthink it.

“Are you my mentor? If someone has to ask this question, the answer is probably no,” said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. “When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious.”

What’s more important than a label is a real connection that yields results in your career.

Shared Ideas of Success

Perhaps you won’t have the exact same career path or skill sets, but if you and your mentor share the same values, that will create a much more beneficial dynamic.

“Remind yourself of how you define success on your own terms,” said Dr. Blake Livingood, Founder of Livingood Daily. “We all envision success in our own ways, and great mentors tend to value the same things in life. Make sure you’re on the same page and it will be a fruitful relationship.”

That’s why you should discuss big-picture points when talking with potential mentors.

Be Autonomous

There’s only so much a mentor can help you with in your daily life. If you’re asking them for advice on every situation that comes up, it means you might be better off without the training wheels.

“Never forget to think for yourself and always make your own decisions at the end of the day,” said Ashley Troutman, Senior Director of Brand Management at Mother Dirt. “Mentors can give you a lot of valuable insights, but they should never be the ones in charge of your destiny.”

A mentor can help you build self-confidence rather than be a crutch for your shortcomings.

Make a Plan

Mentors are often busy people with their own strict schedules. Show some respect for their schedules and set boundaries so that you don’t become a burden.

“It helps to set expectations with your mentor and even establish a schedule for communication,” said Tyler Forte, Founder and CEO of Felix Homes. “This ensures that you aren’t taking up too much time out of the week, and it makes each interaction more impactful.”

Remember that time is the most valuable asset, and it should be taken seriously.

Nobody Is Invincible

Ever noticed how it’s the young and ambitious people who seem to know it all? Wise mentors know that this is just a phase, and the right guidance can correct this in time.

“Many young entrepreneurs think that they can do everything on their own, and let their ego get in the way,” said Travis Killian, CEO and Founder of Everlasting Comfort. “Trust me – we can all benefit from a bit of help and guidance, even if we perceive ourselves as invincible.”

There’s always someone who knows more than you, and that’s a good thing when looking for a mentor.

Admiration First

It’s often better to go without a mentor for a while rather than get one who doesn’t have your best interests in mind. Have high standards for the people you connect with and follow.

“The most effective mentors are the people who you admire and want to replicate, whether that’s in business or life in general,” said Omid Semino, CEO of Diamond Mansion. “Find those rare people in your life who truly inspire you and try to make that connection sooner than later.”

You won’t always be able to connect with your “dream mentor”, but you can get close.

Voice of Reason

Forging a career path is tough, and starting a business is even tougher. The best mentors will give you the advice to keep your head in the game, motivate you, and sometimes even check your ego.

“Everyone needs to hear tough truths now and then, especially when we’re enjoying success in our business ventures,” said Ashwin Sokke, Co-Founder of WOW Skin Science. “A mentor can bring you back down to earth, keep you humble, and ensure that you stay focused on the road ahead.”

At some point in your career, you’re going to want a mentor to help you navigate obstacles and get to the next level. Keep these tips in mind when screening for a mentor and make the most valuable connections you can.

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by Lottie Pritchard // Lottie Pritchard is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.