It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in or what you do for a living. Everybody could use a good mentor, regardless of where they are in terms of their employment.
Sure, those who are just starting out in their careers could probably benefit the most from a mentoring relationship. However, people at all stages of their career could reap the benefits.
There are two different ways to pursue a mentor: through a formal mentoring program or in an informal way. Some organizations and companies offer opportunities through the former. If your employer does not, then perhaps you can pursue opportunities on your own through the latter.
A mentor could work at the same organization as you, or they might not. If the first scenario is the case, that might make the mentoring relationship easier to navigate and manage. However, it’s not a prerequisite.
Below is a set of five criteria for identifying a good mentor:
#1—They should have more work experience than you.
You want to learn from somebody who has been where you want to go. When it comes to benefiting from a mentoring relationship, learning from the experiences of another other person is crucial. Skills and certifications can be learned and earned. However, experiences have be . . . well, experienced. You can either learn from your own experiences (and mistakes), or you can learn from the experiences of others. Sometimes, learning from the experiences of others is less painful.
#2—They should be a good listener.
Talking is only half the battle. Sometimes, it’s not even half. A person has to be a good listener in order to accurately assess a situation and then make suggestions for improvement. By listening, your mentor will find out enough about you to help you grow. Not only will they need to know about your strengths and weaknesses, but also about your personality, goals, and beliefs. This also means that they should be adept at asking the right questions.
#3—They should be honest and realistic.
A good mentor should be able to “shoot you straight.” That means being upfront about your strengths, but also about your weaknesses. You need to know what those weaknesses are, and your mentor should not “sugar coat” them for you. Sugar is for desserts, not for providing feedback regarding your career and what you should do about it. On the other hand, you don’t want somebody who is going to focus on the negative all the time. That can be discouraging.
#4—They should have different strengths than you.
If you want to improve your weaknesses, then your mentor should be strong in areas that you are not. That way, they can use their strengths to both their advantage and to your advantage. One of the goals of a mentoring relationship is to figure out the best ways to use your strengths and also how to minimize your weaknesses (or eliminate them altogether).
#5—They should enjoy being a mentor.
You don’t want somebody who is going to be a mentor “against their will” or somebody who is only going to do it begrudgingly. They should be as excited about the venture as you are. They should be willing to share their experiences, share their expertise, and share their opinions. Your mentoring relationship should be a positive one all the way around and one that benefits you both personally and professionally.
Do you know somebody who would be a good mentor? How would a mentoring relationship with them help your career? What steps do you have to take to make that happen?