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Published on February 27, 2019

Advice for Entrepreneurs: How To Find A Mentor Worth Listening To

Advice for Entrepreneurs: How To Find A Mentor Worth Listening To

I was fortunate enough to have a number of great mentors who helped guide me and set me on the path to success when I was starting out in my career.

One of them, in particular, stands out because our relationship highlights a number of important points about finding the right mentor. We met after I spoke at a Rotary event and he decided to reach out to me. He was from Europe and his wife happened to be Swedish, as am I, so we were able to connect fairly quickly. Shortly after meeting him, I asked, “What can I do to help you?”

Now, this guy was incredibly successful. He had built two huge companies that he sold for millions. What he didn’t know how to do, however, was build a website. I did. So, I built him a website for free and told him he could just owe me one. It turned out his next door neighbor was a VP at Sony’s record label, and to “pay me back,” my mentor invited me to have a drink with his neighbor.

Next thing I knew, I was working on a project for Sony.

I’m not saying that you should automatically expect your mentor will connect you with someone important or give your career a major boost. But if you never put yourself out there and look for someone to have a mentor relationship with, you’re ensuring you’ll never have that opportunity.

Here’s how I’d recommend going about finding a mentor who will actually make an impact on your life:

1. Look for Someone Who Challenges You to Challenge Yourself

A great mentor doesn’t give you homework. They don’t sit you down, tell you exactly what you need to know and then send you off with some specific problems to solve. That’s more of a coach.

A mentor is someone who pushes you and opens up your perspectives. They help you perceive problems in new ways, so you can solve them on your own.

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Let’s say you have a difficult decision to make. A good mentor doesn’t necessarily say, “Do x, y, and z.” They tell you about a time they experienced something similar and what they learned from the situation. They talk about the different ways you could approach this decision.

The way I look at it, if I tell someone something, I could be wrong. So if I’m mentoring someone, my job is to help them realize what they want to do, or how they can go about doing it.

The best mentors make you think by offering a point of view you didn’t already have.

2. Find a Mentor with Experience in Whatever You’re Trying to Achieve

Ideally, a mentor should have experience in the field you’re interested in—sales, marketing, corporate management, law, medicine, whatever. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time for both parties.

For instance, I have a couple friends who are plumbers. They’re great guys who are good at what they do, but I wouldn’t ask them for advice on building a software company.

That’s why before you even start looking for a mentor, you have to know what you want to achieve. You need clear goals that someone can actually help you with. Otherwise, you’ll connect with someone, they’ll ask how they can help you, and all you’ll have to say is, “Hm, I don’t know.”

It goes back to the old saying, “When the student is ready, the master will appear.” Once you have clarity on what you want to achieve, and you’ve set goals to work toward, it becomes much easier to find someone to help you.

3. Consider What You Can Offer Them Just as Much as What They Can Offer You

The mentor relationship isn’t a one-way street. No one, in any scenario, likes to continuously give to someone else without getting anything in return.

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The big issue here is that most people who are looking for a mentor are young, and they feel like they don’t have anything to offer. I’ll say this a thousand times—you have something to offer. It just may not initially cross your mind that it’s something a potential mentor may need.

Take the example of the guy who introduced me to his neighbor at Sony. There’s no way I could have helped him with scaling a company or selling it, and it’s not like he needed my help with that in the first place. But he was an old school kind of guy—I don’t even know if he has a smartphone. There’s no way he could have built a website for himself.

You shouldn’t have to jump through hoops or make this into a transactional relationship. But you should attempt to offer something in return, even if it’s just your energy, enthusiasm, and hunger to learn.

4. Seek out People Who Are Successful Without Needing to Show It

Many people think of the “ideal” mentor as one of the many inspirational people they see online—someone like Gary Vaynerchuk or Tony Robbins.

Yes, those guys are very successful and would likely be great mentors. But they also get 10,000 emails a week asking them for advice and mentorship. Your message is going to be a drop of water coming out of a firehose.

Here’s the secret:

There are plenty of people out there who have been just as successful in life, but don’t have an Instagram account. They don’t have a Facebook profile because they have $300 million in the bank, and they’re not seeking any external validation. Their business isn’t necessarily built around a personal brand.

It may be a little more difficult to find these people online, but that’s the point. If they have a blog, read it. If they do regularly post on a specific site, follow them. Comment on their posts. Share what they write. Learn about what they’ve done and whether they might be a good fit for you as a mentor.

And then, once you’ve put in the effort to learn about this person, reach out to them.

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5. Don’t Be Afraid of Reaching out or Being Rejected

So many people are terrified of reaching out to someone and asking for advice. And unfortunately, they allow the fear of being rejected to control their decision-making.

Never, ever, let fear rule anything in your life.

A former mentor of mine had a unique take on rejection. He told me,

“I actually love rejection because I look at it like harvesting pearls. Sometimes I have to open 99 oysters to find a pearl in the 100th. Which means every ‘no’ I get brings me closer to a ‘yes.’”

Start your search with something quick and easy. “Hey, I really enjoyed your article. I had a question about something you wrote. Can I email you?” If they say yes, ask away. Maybe send them an article on the topic you think might interest them.

And like that, you’re having a conversation with someone you admire.

The important thing to remember is that when people do reject your outreach, it’s almost never about you. It may simply have been the wrong time — maybe their dog was sick, maybe they had a big family vacation planned, or maybe they were just busy.

There are so many variables in people’s lives that it’s crazy to beat yourself up because someone didn’t want to be your mentor.

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6. Realize the Best Mentorships Turn into Friendships over Time

When I was younger and building a career for myself, I had what most people think of as a classic mentor relationship with older people in my field.

Now that I’ve had some success and gotten a little older, the relationships I have with people have changed to a degree. It’s no longer a formal mentor relationship—I think of it like having very successful friends that I ask for advice from time to time.

Successful People Attract Other Successful People

Instead of seeking out mentors, it becomes more about surrounding yourself with people that are much smarter than you and showing them you actually have something to offer.

And as you get a little older and more successful, you’re going to start seeing familiar emails show up in your inbox. Except for this time, you’ll be the one answering:

“Hey, I really liked that article you wrote. Would love to pick your brain on something if you’ve got a few minutes…”

More Resources for Entrepreneurs

Featured photo credit: NESA by Makers via unsplash.com

More by this author

Sami Rusani

A serial entrepreneur with several multi-million dollar businesses

Advice for Entrepreneurs: How To Find A Mentor Worth Listening To

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

How to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills For a Swift Career Switch

Most people grow up with dreams to go to college and graduate with high-paying job offers waiting for them the week after graduation. Others may favor non-traditional career paths. But the desire is the same: to find a job we love where compensation is commensurate with experience.

However, plans change. For instance, what started out as a dream to be a surgeon is cut short by a nasty injury and you’re debating how to transition into a new role. Or you might be facing being let go from your current employer and are anxious about “options out there.”

Whatever the case may be, switching careers can be intentional or unintentional. What matters is that you’re well-prepared, and the only way to do so is to learn new skills — hone in on your transferable skills.

Why Hone in on Your Transferable Skills?

There are several reasons you need to develop these skills if you want to go far in life and your career. In a nutshell, honing in your your transferable skills can lead to:

Better Job Offers

Continuous assessment and improvement of your skills widens the pool of job offers for you to make selections from. You’re no longer tethered to one industry as you’re able to lead your career by design, not by default.

People with transferable skills on a resume also open up opportunities for more potential employers.

Increase in Pay and More Responsibilities

You’ve heard the saying “with great power come great responsibility.” In your case, transferable skills make you more marketable to employers which could lead to pay raises.

Although this isn’t an automatic process– you have to be proactive about what you want in the marketplace, there is a chance that these pay raises will come with change in titles and roles.

A Shot at Entrepreneurship

Yes, changing career paths also includes the possibility of working for yourself. With these skills and work experience, you could live anywhere in the world and design a life and career you want.

We’ve talked about why you need to strengthen your transferable skills but what are some these skills, and how can you work on them?

13 Tips to Sharpen Your Transferable Skills

1. Update Your Resume

You might be surprised to know this but yes, updating your resume is a skill. The very first thing you should do while thinking about switching careers is to highlight attributes that make you very desirable candidate to employers.

Think about your volunteer experiences, freelance projects, and school projects. Although they might seem insignificant, they demonstrate your ability to deliver results that several companies are looking for.

While you might have held several positions since college, switching careers will require you to have a different type of resume.

There are three different types of resumes: functional, chronological, and a combination resume. However, if you are looking to switch careers you’ll want to have a functional resume. A functional resume is strengths-based that emphasizes skills that are transferable rather than a collection of dates and job titles.

2. Brush up on Your Communication Skills

Every attempt to get ahead in business and in life starts with the need to communicate effectively. Whether it is interpersonal, intercultural, or multi-generational, the ability to be seen and heard while respecting the boundaries of work relationship matters.

That’s why it’s one of the top skills you need to master. Strong communication skills allows you to effectively tailor your messages to specific audiences, which will make you a stronger asset to any organization.

To hone this skill:

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Pay attention to your listening skills. To communicate effectively, you need to first learn how to understand others.

Your ability to decode overt and implied messages, no matter how nuanced they are, is key to knowing how to foster deep relationships with others.

This article can also give you effective ways to enhance your communication skills:

How to Master Effective Communication Skills at Work and Home

3. Learn Technical (or Business) Writing

Another form of communication, writing, is a skill that can take you anywhere.

Companies communicate a lot through written memos, emails, newsletters, and other audio-visual means. But at the crux of this all is someone or some people who are tasked with translating the organization’s vision into statements anyone can understand.

To hone this skill:

Consider taking some free or paid classes online. You can accomplish this through several community colleges or online platforms like Lynda, Udemy or edX .

4. Practice Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

No matter how intelligent you are, no one will take you seriously if you’re unable to pull off a decent level of persuasion through presentation skills.

Most presentation can be done through either electronic devices or require your physical presence. Your chosen career may require you to be in front of several hundreds of people or you could be charged with developing materials for presentation.

To hone this skill:

Volunteer to lead projects that give you some responsibility for putting together presentations.

Also, try taking courses that will improve your public speaking skills if you feel lacking.

These tips on public speaking would be helpful too:

The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

5. Get Comfortable with Identifying Problems and Solutions

Every organization has got its problems no matter how greener the grass is on the other side.

How to hone this skill:

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Practice being resourceful.

Do you know where to find every company policy on the intranet in less than five minutes?

Think about a time you noticed some inefficiency at work and proposed a solution. Think about instances where you lent your voice to a cause which resulted in improved processes for your department.

No matter how small or inadequate you might feel, you’ve got some problem-solving skills that some organizations want.

If you look for more ways to improve your problem solving skills, take a look at this article:

6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills

6. Recognize Your Team-Building Ability

Your ability to smoothly switch careers also depends on how well you can energize your team, especially if you’re aiming for a leadership role. Unfortunately, team-building usually isn’t something you learn on the job in most careers unless you hold a managerial position.

The good thing is that you possibly know one or two things about team-building. Think back to moments in college when you had group projects with colleagues and had to work with 3 to 4 other strangers for months. Were you able to get past your differences and disagreements to focus on the uniqueness of everyone at the table?

Making a career switch might require that you work with multidisciplinary teams whether you have a deep knowledge of what the other team does or not. I can easily think of doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and social workers working closely to achieve the goals in a patient’s care plan.

How to hone this skill:

Look for collaborative projects and team building activities that excite you and challenge yourself with new possibilities.

Try some of these tactics to keep your team motivated as well:

17 Proven Tactics for Motivating Employees and Building a Stronger Team

7. Lean into Your Leadership Skills

Although similar to the previous point, leadership skills extend far beyond building teams, managing time sheets and correcting behavior.

What I’m referring to here is your ability to develop a vision, believe in it, and inspire buy-in from everyone involved. This isn’t about knowing how to run a particular machine; it’s about how to lead a team of people with various backgrounds, experiences, and ideas of how things should be done.

How to hone this skill:

Although more complex than the rest, it all starts with an introspective look into your strengths and weaknesses. Then get a mentor or a coach who can bring out your leadership qualities so you can operate from a place of strength.

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Learn more about the effective leadership types here:

5 Types of Leadership that Help You Build a High Performance Team

8. Improve Your Analytical Skills

Are you good at taking large amount of data and interpreting them? Your skills could come in handy.

Organizations are looking for people to make sense of the data around them, explain how it affects profitability, and make projections based on it. Best of all? You don’t need to be an accountant to be analytical.

How to hone this skill:

Try taking data interpretation classes online or at a community college. Learning Microsoft Excel or Access is also a plus. If you’re ambitious enough, you could consider getting additional certifications to up the ante.

Take a look at these ways to help sharpen your analytical skills:

What Are Analytical Skills and How to Strengthen Them For Success

9. Don’t Discount Your Time Management and Prioritization Skills

How good are you when it comes to deciding how important tasks are, organizing schedules, and coordinating plans?

Should you be willing, there is a market waiting for you out there. Organizations and busy executives are always looking for talented individuals to outsource these tasks to.

How to hone this skill:

Although not everyone possesses secretarial superpowers, you can improve this skill by focusing on taking huge tasks and breaking them into smaller goals or steps in order to achieve a bigger goal.

Here, you can learn to prioritize to achieve more:

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

10. Embrace Your Creative and Critical Thinking Side

Although it’s often believed that creativity is for the arts and right-brained people, I believe everyone is capable of being creative. In fact, most organizations recognize creativity as a vehicle that will drive successful inventions in the future.

How to hone this skill:

Try doing something fun. As simple as this sounds, you’d be surprised to learn how much. In fact, behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo, says taking a walk might be all you need to get your creative juices flowing.[1]

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Anyone can be creative, you just need the right way to train your brain:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

11. Don’t Stop Learning Tech Knowledge and Skills

Being tech-savvy is a huge plus. If you have an affinity with computers, software applications and are abreast of technological improvements, it is a transferable skill that is worth highlighting.

You don’t have to be a young college graduate with silicon valley dreams to work

How to hone this skill:

All you need is the determination and the readiness to learn. This article will give you some ideas on the types of skills to learn:

How to Improve Your Computer Skills to Get Ahead in Your Career

12. Build Networks and Relationships

You aren’t free from networking. Not at the moment. With your goal to switch to a different career, your networking skills will come in handy.

Fortunately for you, networking doesn’t have to be so hard.

How to hone this skill:

Attend conferences and job fairs. Chances are you already have people in your network you can move you closer to your dream career.

To enhance your networking skills, take these steps:

How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life

Final Thoughts

Although there are several people with the same qualification and degree(s) you possess, what ultimately determines hireability comes down to a myriad of things such as culture fit, how teachable you are, cultural sensitivity, inter-generational awareness, and your ability to navigate uncertainty.

You have a chance to stand out by letting your dream companies know how these soft skills make you an invaluable asset, and how saying ‘YES’ to you is a win-win for both parties.

Happy career switching!

More Resources About Career Advancement

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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