Having a professional mentor can be the difference between floating aimlessly at sea or landing squarely on dry land—professionally speaking, anyway. If it works out well, it can be a relationship that guides you through your career path and helps you keep your goals clear and intact. A mentor can also help you develop and advance your professional skills and help you overcome obstacles as they arise.
The question is, how and where do you meet this person? Here are five ideas on how to find the mentor who's the best fit for your needs:
- Consider who in your field inspires you and why. Perhaps it's one of your college professors, a director or manager at your current job, or even a member of your school's alumni mentoring program. The point is, you want to find someone who can help you achieve success. Then, use this person as a sounding board to answer concrete questions with real-world relevance. If your mentor of choice isn’t in your field, don't despair. The truth is, there are career skills and strategies that are applicable across fields. And at the end of the day, people like helping people. Plus, the sheer act of asking lets them know they're admired.
- Go get 'em. Remember you find the mentor—the mentor doesn't find you. Forbes suggests heading directly where the people are with the skill set you seek. That may mean attending networking events, sitting in the audience of a pitch showcase or attending a conference. It may also mean participating in an entrepreneurial workshop and taking the opportunity to talk shop during lunch breaks.
- Use your existing network. Think about the people you’ve met, the business cards you’ve collected and the LinkedIn connections you’ve built. Whether you initially met potential mentors online or offline, ask them to meet in person for a coffee (and remember to pay).
- Use an organization to make the connection. Some, for example, may connect female corporate mentors with women in charities. Often, professional membership organizations offer mentor services as well. HR departments are another potential source.
- Once you’ve established your mentor and mentee relationship, don’t let it fizzle. Meet at a regular interval for a duration you mutually agree on. Plan, and use, your time together wisely. Keeping it specific and ongoing is the likeliest way to achieve career success and ensure you get practical, useful advice along the way.
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Jennifer Olvera is a Chicago-based freelance writer.