Developing a relationship with the right mentor can be a significant step toward reaching your professional goals. Mentors help us gain new perspectives, make better plans, master advanced skills, meet new people, and focus our efforts. Finding the right mentor may seem like a daunting project unto itself, but remembering some simple guidelines will help you narrow the choices to those in the best position to help you succeed. Also check out (GOING BEYOND MENTORING), (MENTORING MISTAKES SMART PMOS MAKE), (6 STEPS TO BEING A GOOD MENTOR) and (6 reasons-mentoring still matters)
Know what you want to achieve. Before you begin the process of finding a mentor, you must first clearly define your goals for the relationship.
- Do you want to take on larger or more complex projects?
- Are you looking for guidance on the best project management training and educational opportunities?
- Do you need help working through an issue with a manager, coworker, or direct report?
- Have you recently transitioned to a more challenging job?
- Are you planning to pursue an opportunity that requires a different skill set than you have now?
Your mentor will have a wealth of experience to share with you as time goes on, but your initial search should be based on today’s goals.
Look outside your reporting relationships. While your supervisor may be a skilled and experienced professional, it’s often best to look for a mentor who isn’t likely to be in a position to give you bad news, assign unpleasant tasks, or favor a coworker for a coveted promotion. Instead, seek out the peers of those above you in the chain of command. Consider retired or semi-retired professionals, as they’re a terrific source of information and hard-earned expertise. Experts who teach classes in your area of interest may also be available to help you on a more individual basis.
Ask for referrals. Chances are good that your colleagues have developed fruitful relationships with mentors along the way. Inquire about who possesses the traits you’re most interested in developing, and who is approachable and professional. You might also check with any business organizations you belong to, as many have a mechanism to facilitate matching mentors and mentees in similar industries, locations, or areas of interest. Networking groups also frequently run mentor/mentee matching programs for their members.
Avoid mentors who may create a conflict of interest. Individuals with direct disciplinary control over immediate family members, vendors reliant on your company for favorable business decisions, and professionals working for competing organizations shouldn’t be considered for the role of mentor. Seemingly innocuous issues could someday turn out to be damaging or sensitive—better to avoid these potentially harmful situations than try to recover from them.
Be candid. Tell your potential mentor exactly which skills, qualities, or expertise you want to develop. You may be interested in improving your strategic planning skills, developing leadership abilities, or becoming savvier in your networking efforts. If there are specific issues you want to work on, be up front about them. Be sure to let your mentor know which areas are your weakest. It doesn’t do either of you any good to play 20 questions, so lay everything on the table and allow your mentor to help you navigate the issues.
Be realistic. Expecting a mentor to replace an intensive college-level course is setting both of you up for failure. Instead, seek out a mentor who has the expertise you ultimately want to gain, and ask them what type of help they can offer, or how they would recommend you proceed. Much of a mentor’s value lies in their perspective on career growth, in locating the right continuing education opportunities, and in their guidance on the development of new skills and experience.