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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Entrepreneurs are an eclectic bunch! Some have entrepreneurship thrust upon them by necessity, while others were born with a passion for it. But no matter how you get there, all entrepreneurs start out as novices when launching their first business.

Having a mentor at this stage in your career can mean the difference between success and failure over the long term. A 2012 survey found that entrepreneurs who received mentoring increasing their revenue by an average $47,000 a year.[1] And the American Psychological Association says that there are a host of benefits of mentorship including, career coaching, a larger and wider professional network and more job satisfaction for the entrepreneur.[2]

But how do you find a mentor, what should you look for and how do you ask someone to be a mentor? These are important questions to consider before you get into a mentoring relationship.

What is a Mentor?

Before we get into exactly how to find a mentor, it’s important to understand what a mentor is, as well as what a mentor is not.

A good working definition of a mentor for our purposes is

“Someone with experience in a field, occupation or business who is willing to share it with a less experienced person called a mentee”.

You may be reading this and thinking that this sounds a lot like a business coach. After all, a coach is someone who has experience and expertise in a field that is paid to share it with you. While the two roles are similar, there are a couple of important differences.

First of all, the mentoring relationship is rarely a paid one while hiring a coach or consultant is.

Secondly, hiring a business coach is a more formal relationship with a clearly defined project and a finite time frame. A mentor/mentee relationship is more informal and can last for years.

Finally, when you hire a coach, you can expect them to give you specific advice to solve a specific problem. A mentor acts more as a sounding board for problems, so that you can work them out yourself.

Benefits of a Mentor-Mentee Relationship

The obvious benefit of having a mentor/mentee relationship is the mentor’s experience in the field. For someone just starting out this is invaluable. All businesses have their unique quirks that are only known to the insiders.

For example, you may think that insurance companies make all their money off of the premiums that you pay. But did you know that the real money is made in the “float”?[3]

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The float is the time between when an insurance company gets your money and when they have to pay out your claim. The longer that period is, the more money is being made by the insurance company. And you wondered why they were so slow paying your claim!

It’s this kind of little known insider knowledge that makes having a mentor so valuable. Additionally, a mentor will offer objective advice, a unique perspective and encouragement.

But the biggest benefit of a mentoring relationship is experience. Experience is an asset just like any other asset albeit an expensive one to get. You can significantly cut your costs of acquiring experience with a good mentor.

How to Find a Mentor in 7 (Not So) Easy Steps

1. Prepare Yourself

As entrepreneurs, we are used to doing things by ourselves. We read articles and watch YouTube videos in order to tackle the unknown. And while this self motivation and problem solving strategy is what defines us, it’s a double edged sword.

A lot of times, we get tunnel vision about how things should work and how problems get solved. This rigidity can limit the options we see. It’s almost always better to give up on the idea of how things “should work” in theory and embrace the lessons of experience.

I learned this the hard way when I was designing a commission structure for my sales people. I had set it up so that they would get a percentage of each sale they made. It made sense to me. After all, the more they sold, the higher their commissions would be.

However, I soon discovered that while they were selling to the customers who were looking to buy, they weren’t going out of their way to make the sale happen.

I ended up talking about this with a friend who was a fellow business owner and he pointed out that I was relying exclusively on extrinsic motivation to generate sales, (commissions). We talked about ways to develop intrinsic motivation within the team as it’s a much better motivational technique than extrinsic motivation.

Long story short, not only did sales improve, but so did morale.

2. It’s About the Person More Than the Position

Ideally, you should find a mentor who is the idealized version of what you want to become. But there are some basic characteristics that you shouldn’t ignore when choosing a mentor.

The most important one is honesty and trustworthiness. It should go without saying, but I’ve seen too many people get burned because they were blinded by a person’s position instead of principles.

3. Make Yourself Attractive to Potential Mentors

People who are experts in their fields have a passion for it, and they are often on the lookout for people who share that passion. So your job is to show them that for you, it’s more than just a job or a way to make money. You share the same passion as they do.

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Unfortunately, this is not something that you can fake. The experts can spot a fake from the genuine article a mile away.

With that being said, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd by putting in extra effort, working late, contributing in meetings and taking on those jobs that others won’t. These are the things that mentors notice and even if you don’t share their passion for the work, putting in the extra effort will make you a more attractive candidate for mentorship.

4. Open Yourself up to All of the Possibilities

You can’t always pick out your own mentor. Sometimes, mentors pick you; be open to this possibility.

We see this a lot when people want mentors who are “too far up the food chain”. It’s common for young people just starting out to pick the CEO or President of the company to be a mentor. These people rarely have the time or inclination to mentor someone who may or may not be with the company in a year. Meanwhile, a manager or VP who has a vested interest in your success could be the perfect mentor fit (for now).

You also want to make sure that you are looking side to side for mentors, not just up. Sometimes, you can find a peer that is a rising star. Encourage and emulate that person. At the very least, you’ll develop some good networking opportunities down the road.

5. Choose Someone Close

While the advent of the internet has made long distance mentorship possible, it’s still not ideal. Your mentor should be someone who is fairly easy to reach and ideally someone close enough that you can have face to face meetings.

On a side note, whenever I meet with a mentor of mine, I alway pay. It doesn’t matter if it’s coffee or a meal out with their family, it’s my treat. Make sure your mentor-mentee relationship is a two way street.

6. Don’t Always Look for Someone like You

Good mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Our former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it this way:

“Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career. But here’s an important warning: You don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. Most of my mentors have been old white men, because they were the ones who dominated my field.”

7. Make the Ask

Asking someone to be your mentor doesn’t have to be awkward, just ask your friend to hand them a note that says “Do you want to be my mentor? circle one. Yes, No, Maybe”. Okay that was a joke, but you will need to formalize the relationship so that expectations are clear.

The first thing you need to do is to be clear about what you are looking for in the mentor-mentee relationship. Only then should you make the ask. Then make sure your ask follows this formula:

  • Tell them what you admire about them.
  • Explain what your goals are for the mentoring process.
  • Suggest a logistical scenario.

Your conversation should go something like this,“Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I was really impressed with how you handled the client/sale/business meeting (whatever). I would like to work on my skills in that area and was wondering if you’d be willing to mentor me? I don’t want to take up a lot of your time, but if we could do lunch once a week, maybe on Wednesday? Would you be open to that?”

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This is a direct, strait to the point conversation that gives the prospective mentor all the information they need to evaluate your request.

The Don’ts of a Mentor Relationship

So we’ve talked about what the mentor/mentee relationship is and even how you should go about getting a mentor. But there are some very specific don’ts that as a potential mentee, you should know about.

Don’t Ask Someone You’ve Never Had a Conversation With

Sure, the top person in your industry would probably be a great mentor, but unless you already have a relationship with them, it’s not going to work.

The mentor-mentee relationship is a personal one. This allows for the mentor to become vested in your success. You can not expect someone to have a vested interest in your success who doesn’t even know you.

Don’t Meet with Your Mentor If You’re Unprepared

A mentor’s time is valuable, don’t waste it with questions that you could and should figure out on your own.

A good rule of thumb is; “If you can Google it, then Google it, don’t ask your mentor.” Use the limited time you have with them wisely.

Don’t Just Take from a Mentor

As I stated earlier, whenever I meet with my mentors, I pay. This is an acknowledgement of the value the mentor brings to the relationship. Their knowledge and experience is worth more than any cup of Starbucks or family dinner that I pay for.

But even if you don’t or can’t pay, there is always something you can do to help out your mentor. The mentor-mentee relationship is a reciprocal one.

Don’t Make It Difficult to Meet

Make sure you are working around the mentor’s schedule and not yours. While this is a reciprocal relationship, the truth is, as the mentee, you’re getting most of the benefits from the relationship.

Besides, the more senior the mentor, the more demands they will have on their time.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Tough Questions

And by tough questions, I don’t mean “How do I design an employee benefits package?”

I mean “Where am I falling short?”, “What do I need to work on or improve?” or “What do you see as my biggest weakness?”

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Trust me, if you can ask these types of questions and be open to hearing the answers, it will help your business more than anything else.

Don’t Ignore Their Advice

One of the quickest ways to ruin a mentor-mentee relationship is to ask for advice and then ignore it. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to do everything that your mentor tells you to do. After all, it’s still your business or career. Just be selective about when and how you ask for advice.

For example, it’s better to say “I have a choice between scenario A and scenario B.” What do you think about the pros and cons of each?” rather than to say “I have a choice between scenario A and scenario B. Which one should I choose?”

In the first example, you’re using them as a sounding board for your decision, in the second example you are asking them to make a decision for your business.

When you ask them to make a decision for your business, out of all the possible outcomes, only one is positive. Your mentor makes the right decision for you. If the mentor makes the wrong decision, then you are unhappy. If the mentor makes the right decision and you don’t take their advice, the mentor is frustrated. If the mentor gives you the wrong advice and you ignore it, the value of the relationship is diminished.

The point here is to use the mentor’s knowledge and experience to guide you in your decisions, not to make the decisions for you.

Bottom Line

The value of a good mentor can not be overemphasized for the budding entrepreneur. The tricky part is knowing what to look for and how to find a mentor for your specific needs.

Mentors can be found almost anywhere, from friends and family to networking events, industry trade shows and even through social media with websites like LinkedIn. But wherever you find a mentor, make sure that it is someone who is trustworthy, with good communication skills who is willing to invest the time and effort involved in mentorship.

And always remember that the mentor/mentee relationship is a two way street so be sure to bring something of value to the mentor as well!

We hope you have enjoyed this article. If you did, please share it with friends and family on social media. It help us out and is greatly appreciated!

Featured photo credit: NESA by Makers via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

David Carpenter

Lifelong entrepreneur and business owner helping others to realize the American Dream of business ownership

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities How to Live up to Your Full Potential and Succeed in Life How to Become an Entrepreneur (Advice from a Serial Entrepreneur) How to Make a Career Change at 50 a Great Opportunity How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

1. Cloud Computing

“Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

3. Data Management

All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

4. Scheduling

Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

5. Financial Skills

These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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6. Research Skills

These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

7. Marketing Skills

While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

8. Network Security Specialist

Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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9. Communication Skills

At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

10. Computer Programming

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

11. Graphic Design

As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

The Bottom Line

We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
[2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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