When I started my career in corporate America, I assumed that my manager would take on the task of mentoring me. It didn’t take long to discover that he really wasn’t interested in helping me learn about the corporate culture, the finer nuances of working with other departments or how to influence people over whom I had no direct authority. Because I worked late, I soon found a human resources co-worker who was also working late. We became good friends, and he became my informal mentor. He took me under his wing and taught me about corporate life, how to interact with others and the necessity of managing my career.
Whether you're a new entrepreneur or you're starting a new job or business, having a connection with someone who knows the ropes is important if you want to be successful. Your boss or someone else might not have the time or inclination to mentor you, so you might need to look elsewhere, either within your company -- or outside of it.
Here are 8 questions to ask yourself as you attempt to identify a mentor:
1. What do you want to learn or achieve?
Maybe you want to learn a certain aspect of your business, or perhaps there's a goal you want to achieve. If you don't know what you want or what you want to achieve, you will find it difficult to select an effective mentor. Identify your goals and let them guide you in the selection of someone who has experience in the area of expertise that you are seeking.
2. How successful has this person been?
Once you've identified a potential mentor, look at how well that person has done in his or her own career. If you are looking for help with your startup, there's no use working closely with someone who hasn't done well. On the other hand, if that person has been in a successful business for 20 years, she or he will obviously have valuable knowledge and experience that would be very helpful.
3. What makes you want to be mentored by this person?
What does your intuition tell you about your potential mentor? Sometimes we meet people and just have a feeling that they have something to teach us. How do you believe she or he can help you? How strong of a desire do you have to be mentored by them? We often meet people that we are drawn to. There is nothing wrong with a little inspiration, but have the good sense to also ask yourself the two previous questions. Make your selection a matter of the mind and the heart.
4. Has this person ever mentored anyone before?
Try to find out from others if this person has ever mentored anyone before you make the attempt to recruit them. If they have mentored others previously, see if you can identify those people and attempt to talk to them about their experience. You might ask them, “Was this mentor helpful and supportive? Did they seem to know what they were talking about?” If your potential mentor has never mentored anyone before, you will likely want to do some additional research about them before you talk to them about mentoring you.
5. What communication skills does this person possess?
An ideal mentor is direct, patient and willing to provide examples of how to hone your skills. They are also good at asking questions that will lead you to self-reflection and increase your awareness of where you need to improve. You want someone who can engage in real conversation talking about what matters most.
6. Will this person hold you accountable?
Ask yourself if this is someone who will say, “Here's what you need to do. Now go do it. Then come back to me and tell me how it went.” Your mentor should be able to be honest with you, provide useful feedback and be firm in their demands. You want your mentor to be respectful, but to not pull any punches about what you need to do to improve.
7. Would this person support you to be the best you can be?
You want to work with someone who you know will always have your best interest at heart. You want someone who will be encouraging and might say, “I know you can do this! If you have any questions, come and ask me. I'm always happy to answer them.” Knowing that this person is committed to your success will keep you from questioning their commitment to what you desire to achieve.
8. Does this person have the time, energy and desire to mentor you?
A past company I worked for assigned mentors as part of a developmental process for future leaders. My assigned mentor was never available, nor did he really have the time to devote to my development. Although he was well intentioned, the entire experience was a bust. Ask your potential mentor outright, “Will you mentor me?” If she or he says yes, then ask the follow-up question, “Do you have the time and energy?” If she or he hesitates, that's probably a “no.” In addition, you should also explore and share your expectations to be sure that you are both clear about what one another can expect from each other. It can be frustrating to get excited about somebody who you think can help you who doesn't make time for you.
In order to find an effective mentor, you need to take responsibility for finding someone who will help you achieve your goals. Then you need to be able to hold an honest conversation about the help, support and guidance you desire. By asking the questions above, you will be able to identify someone who can serve as a mentor and support the development of your capacity as a professional.