Finding a mentor is a great way to give your career and your life a boost. The right mentor can help set you up for success by introducing you to people, suggesting next steps in terms of training or projects you should undertake, being encouraging and showing you that it's possible to get where you want to be.
But mentorship is a tricky situation because it's hard to find the right mentor. How do you find someone who's willing and able to help, with all the qualities you need?
But first, know what your goals are.
Before you go looking for a mentor, it's a good idea to have a firm understanding of what your goals are.
You need to know what you want out of the mentorship relationship as well as where you think you want your career to go in the future before you'll really know what qualities you need your mentor to have.
For example if you want to go into management, you might want a mentor who has taken a similar track. A mentor needs to be someone who has the right experience and connections for you to learn from and benefit from in your own career.
While the business-related experience of a person you might want to be your mentor can vary, there are a lot of personal qualities that are universal in people who will be good at mentorship.
A good mentor should share your personal values.
For example, the best mentors are people with personal integrity and who share your values, both professionally and personally. You aren't going to do well with a hard-driving, lean-in mentor if you're a person who wants to put family first.
A good mentor is willing to teach and offer advice to others.
They might see themselves in you or wish to pay forward the help they got — or provide the help they didn't get — when they were starting out.
A mentor needs to be approachable, willing to make time for you and to prepare for your time together. They need to be willing and able to spend time thinking about your situation and your needs, and to provide helpful advice, and hard truths when needed.
They need to balance willingness to share their talents and expertise with listening to you and being open to your needs and goals instead of just rehashing the old stories they tell everyone who asks for their advice.
The best mentor never stops learning.
One thing that's vital in a mentor that you might not think about is curiosity and a willingness to learn. You need a mentor who not only knows a lot about the business you're in and its history, but who also stays on top of trends and technology and can help you navigate what you need to focus on in your own career development.
They should have goals that they are pursuing and achieving in their field and they get bonus points for speaking at conferences, writing papers or otherwise being a thought leader in a field.
They should be enthusiastic about their field and always interested in reading and learning more.
You can test this by asking about the blogs or books they've read recently and checking out those sources. If they don't have good answers, they might not be the best mentor for you.
The perfect mentor is a coach and a cheerleader.
The mentorship relationship can cover a lot of different characteristics, from giving advice to setting goals, tough love to making connections.
But the mentorship relationship largely boils down to finding someone who can be both a coach and a cheerleader.
They need to be able to give you firm advice on what you need to do, to push you beyond your comfort zone, to encourage you to do things you might not yet feel ready to do and to cheer on your successes as if they were their own.
It's not an easy thing to be a good mentor or to find a good mentor, but starting the search with your needs and mentorship qualities in mind should make it a bit easier to know who isn't right for you.