07 Dec Getting a Mentor: Here’s Why You Might Want One
When you’re in college, or just a young person generally, it sometimes seems like getting a mentor is unnecessary. There are so many people who naturally can help steer your path: parents, professors, school counselors. So recognizing the value of mentorship is buried in the benefits you reap through a community of informal advisers.
But once you are out pursuing a career, you may slowly realize that your parents don’t have experience directly relevant to your profession, and your university umbrella of support begins to fade into the past.
Here’s why you should consider getting a mentor:
Sounding off. A mentor can be great for bouncing off big picture questions. How does this job fit into my larger career goals? What specific skill sets do I want to acquire before my next position? What are my current strengths and weaknesses?
Whether you have a clear picture of your future and want to make sure you are driving in the right direction, or lacking certainty about the next step, it helps to have someone to talk things out with.
No blood or money involved. This is just to say, it’s great to have a mentor who isn’t a relative or related to your current employer. A relative can be biased by what other family members will think of how they advise you (Is your mom going to kill her brother for suggesting you move across the country for a new opportunity?).
And someone at your current employer, even if they are not your boss, may feel conflicted about helping you see beyond your present position. But getting a mentor who understands where you want to end up, yet has no personal or professional stake, can provide objective suggestions without any repercussions.
Disciplinary action. Being accountable to someone, even informally, can really instill discipline into your planning and progress. Even if you meet with them relatively infrequently, if the two of you have agreed to some specific goals on an explicit deadline, you’ll likely keep measuring your progress. And it doesn’t have to be a negative incentive – sometimes there are small wins that contribute to a bigger long-term goal, and it’s nice to have a mentor who can celebrate those with you.
Natural networking. At some point your mentor should be a valuable resource for networking, though initially the relationship should be more about helping you evaluate and plan where you want to be. But getting a mentor and building an authentic connection will almost certainly result in more extensive and thoughtful contacts to others.
A good mentor will feel invested in your success, and likely do more to help you than someone who had a narrower professional or academic interaction with you. A former boss can discuss what you did in the past, but a mentor can talk about your overall development, your future potential, and what your long term objectives are.
Getting a mentor isn’t a quick process, but an important one.
You need to think about how well you know someone (unless it’s part of a structured mentorship program, strangers usually aren’t great candidates for mentoring). It’s also important to know what you want to get out of the relationship – why can this person in particular help you? In fact, when you first meet someone to discuss them being a mentor, be thoughtful and prepared in the meeting with great questions.
And set up some sort of structure to keep communication frequent enough to be helpful, without being a burden to the mentor. And above all, be grateful in the beginning and ever after – being someone who is a joy to mentor is the best mentor bait of all.