The other day I posted a discussion in a group for professional women about mentoring since January was National Mentoring Month. I received the following message from one of the group members:
I have been reading many of the posts about mentors and I am interested in having a mentor. I am a year away from completing my Associates degree in Business Administration with my goal of Business Management. What would be the best way about finding a mentor?
There’s been so much talk recently around mentoring – women mentoring other women, men making an extra effort to find promising women to mentor, etc. – so I think my advice to this group member would resonate with many of you out there and help you take the first active steps to finding and mentor.
But before we get to how to find a mentor, let me make one point about the definition of mentorship. Mentorship does not mean working hard and waiting for someone more senior to notice your hard work and offer to be your mentor. You need to be proactive about identifying and reaching out to potential mentors. Here are a couple of different ways you can get started.
Mentoring is about proactive growth
I would start by thinking about what skills you're looking to develop. Is it giving presentations? Managing teams? Blogging? Once you've identified the skill you want to focus on, think about someone you've worked with (or currently work with, or have met in another professional capacity) that you think is strong in that skill that you could learn from. If you’re stuck and can’t think of anyone of the top of your head, browse through your social media contacts and address book to jog your memory.
Once you've got a person or two in mind, reach out to them directly. Explain why you're looking for a mentor and why you thought of them. A mentor doesn't need to be located near you physically since you always have the option of meeting with Skype or Google Hangouts and talking on the phone.
The most important part of looking for and asking someone to mentor you is to be specific. You need to be clear what you're looking to learn from them and why you think they are the person to help you develop that particular skill. Most people are flattered that you even would consider them an expert in any particular subject, so the response tends to be very positive.
Ask to have a quick 10-15 minutes chat with them about how you would structure the mentoring: How long will it go on for? How and when will you meet? What are the goals to be achieved? Make sure expectations are clearly defined both from your end and from their end. How often will you be in contact? What is the best way to contact them with questions? How quickly should you expect a response?
And one last point… mentoring is not the same as sponsoring (some people confuse the two). A mentor helps you become a better professional in whatever area you want to grow. A sponsor, in a nutshell, is someone who can help promote your career and propel it forward and up within your organization (and sometimes out), but may not actively look for a mentor outside of your organization that within it. A mentor outside your current company brings a fresh perspective to your work and can help you break out of a creative rut with a more objective point of view.
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