How to find a mentor: 5 approaches to find the right guidance
Mentoring can be a powerful tool to help you enhance and optimise your professional skillset and acumen.
But, finding a mentor is not as simple as walking up to someone you admire and asking them to give you meaningful career advice.
Rather, it requires you to understand your own needs, identify people who can help you cultivate and nurture the skills you need to achieve your goals and, most importantly, give them a good reason to mentor you.
In this article, you’ll learn what mentorship is, what to look for in an ideal mentor and how to successfully find and approach one.
Table of contents
- What is a mentor?
- Benefits of a mentor
- What to look for in a mentor
- Five ways to find a mentor
- How to approach a mentor
- Wrapping up
What is a mentor?
A mentor is a knowledgeable and experienced person who helps support the growth and development of someone less seasoned.
Small business owners, especially young entrepreneurs, are often on the lookout for someone who can guide them through their professional journey.
A mentor’s focus is to help mentees in career progression, confidence building and skill set enhancement. But the role of a mentor isn’t just limited to a professional capacity. It can extend far deeper into the realm of character-building.
Teaching skills like effective communication, professional ethics, diversity management and a myriad of other general soft skills are all part of being a mentor.
Mentorship is often confused with coaching, but there’s a stark difference between the two.
Coaching is a short-term relationship with a structured and formal approach. The goal of coaching is to improve specific skills and achieve immediate goals.
For example, a leadership coach can help a professional develop better leadership skills. Here, the outcome of the relationship is well-defined and rarely extends beyond the predetermined scope.
Mentoring is a long-term relationship that thrives on mutual respect and trust. The mentor is essentially a professional role model with the goal of helping the mentee develop and grow as a person.
For example, a mentor can help a mentee become a better speaker, manager and life partner over time. Here, the outcome of the relationship can change depending on the needs of the mentee, as long as they continue to develop.
As the role of a mentor is ever-evolving, a good one understands what a mentee needs and is always willing to adapt to changing scenarios.
Benefits of a mentor
Knowing how a mentor can best help grow and take your career to the next level is key to getting the most out of your relationship.
Here are some benefits of having a business mentor.
1. Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking
Most new business owners and entrepreneurs struggle to find their footing in their newfound role and the responsibilities that come with it.
As mentors have a lot of experience they can help you navigate this unfamiliar territory. Their encouragement and career advice often leads to fresh ideas and gives you a new perspective to consider.
Most importantly, they encourage you to think creatively, discover untapped solutions and explore new possibilities for your business and career development and growth.
2. Advice on developing strengths and overcoming weaknesses
A good mentor will do more than simply help you to identify and improve upon your strengths and weaknesses. They will actively encourage you to overcome your shortcomings and provide you with strategies that help you capitalise on your assets.
Mentors tell it like it is. They provide you with honest, constructive feedback that helps you to identify, confront and strategically expand your skillset.
3. Guidance on professional development and advancement
A great mentor will actively help you work through your flaws while providing astute, perceptive guidance that’s worth more than money can buy. This invaluable advice coupled with attentive, personalised feedback goes beyond what you can find in books or learn in a class.
For instance, they can share some of the unwritten and unstated ways of working that they’ve learnt over years of overcoming their own professional struggles and strife. These insider insights in itself are a huge bonus for young entrepreneurs.
Learning from someone’s personal experiences is the best kind of guidance you can receive. It can help you make better business decisions and avoid expensive mistakes.
4. The opportunity to develop new skills and knowledge
While a mentor doesn’t focus on teaching you a specific skill, you can still end up gaining new skills, techniques and knowledge throughout the process.
All of the valuable career advice and guidance you’re getting from them can motivate you and steer you in new directions. You may discover that you’re interested in learning a new skill or pursuing a new career path that you previously weren’t intrigued by.
Mentors can also help to connect you with coaches and resources to help you learn new skills or improve upon existing ones if you so choose.
What to look for in a mentor
Finding a mentor might be one of the most important business decisions you ever make.
It’s only natural that you do your homework beforehand so you can search in the right places and successfully identify the right mentor for you.
Ask yourself these three questions to better understand what your ideal mentor looks like.
1. What are your goals?
Before you start analysing the characteristics of potential mentors, you need to be sure of your own career goals and what you aim to achieve from this relationship.
For instance, are you looking for a coach or a mentor?
People often make the mistake of assuming that a mentor will have teaching or coaching skills. That’s not always true.
Mentors can guide and advise you based on their past experiences, ultimately aiding your overall growth and professional development. But if you’re looking for someone to teach you a specific skill, it might be a good idea to look for a coach instead.
2. Does their business journey align with yours?
A key aspect to look for in a mentor is whether they have relevant experience or not.
This means that their business journey should be similar to yours to a certain extent. The more familiar a mentor is with the landscape of your industry or field, the better they’ll be able to guide you.
For example, if you’re a startup owner, you’ll likely benefit from a mentor who has managed several startups of his or her own.
You also need to consider where a mentor is in their own business journey. Ideally, they should be “just above” where you are in your journey.
The business landscape is fast-paced and constantly changing. If a mentor is too far ahead in their journey, they might not be able to relate to your situation and thus their experience might not be relevant to you.
3. Do they have the right skills and personal qualities?
A good mentor shares your values and ideally has a personality that’s compatible with yours.
For example, if your first priority is your family, you would be better off with a mentor who feels the same way.
In the same vein, if you’re an introverted person, you’ll be more likely to have a better relationship with a mentor who has a similar personality. Otherwise, your relationship could make you feel awkward or uncomfortable because your personality traits aren’t in sync.
Additionally, here are some unique qualities people commonly look for in mentors.
- Leadership skills. This is important so you know how they’ll manage you and what they can teach you about leadership in the long-run.
- Positivity. A positive attitude can change the way you perceive problems. Instead of considering them a hassle, you can take them as an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Effective communication. Mentors with good communication skills are better at sharing their experiences, advice and guidance with you. They’re also more likely to befriend you faster, thus helping them solve issues with a deeper motivation.
- Technical know-how & business acumen. Mentors with expertise, interest, passion and drive in a particular field usually stay up-to-date with the market, new products and ideas, management practices, industry-related news, software and more. This makes them well-equipped to foresee issues and guide you accordingly.
- Honesty, approachability and good listening. A good mentor is one who you feel comfortable with sharing thoughts, questions and concerns. They’re always ready to listen to you and guide you truthfully.
Finding the right fit is just as important as finding a mentor in the first place. A relationship with significant differences in mentor-mentee goals, journeys and personalities might not be beneficial to you in the long-term.
Five ways to find a mentor
Now that you know what a mentor is and how to identify a good fit, you might be wondering where to begin your search.
Finding a mentor doesn’t have to be a difficult task, especially if you’re looking in the right places. Here are five ways to find a mentor who can help you grow.
1. Use your connections
One of the best places to look for a mentor is in your own circle. This can be your professional or personal network.
For example, think of your past colleagues. Have you ever worked with someone who nurtured your skills and helped you grow as a professional?
Since you already know them, reaching out for a potential mentoring relationship would be easier and more comfortable.
You can also make use of your personal connections. This could be a friend or a family member you look up to, a university professor you really admire or even a previous boss who has progressed in a particular field.
Quick Tip: Learn how to grow your connections by reading our guide on business networking.
2. Actively participate in industry-related events
Another great way to find a mentor is to regularly meet with people in your field. You can do this by actively participating in your relevant industry events and conferences.
This can help you build connections, especially with industry leaders who have already made their mark and know the ins and outs of the field.
For example, Women in Tech SEO started as a local meetup and has since expanded into a global presence. In the initial local meetings, Areej AbuAli the founder of Women in Tech SEO, and the group members realised there was a need for a mentorship program. Recently, AbuAli brought this vision to life and launched a mentorship program that matches several hundred female mentors with mentees.
This announcement is industry-specific and tailored to a specific community: women in tech SEO. The group involved in WTS meetups were fascinated by the survey results to a member’s question: “When you think of the greatest SEO mentor of your life, were they ‘Male’, ‘Female’ or ‘Other’?”. As 64.8% answered ‘Men’, WTS wanted to diversify the SEO mentorship community.
“The WTS Mentorship Program is aimed for women in the SEO field, to discuss, share and learn from one another in a one-on-one virtual mentorship environment. Our goal is for both mentors and mentees of the Women in Tech SEO community to feel empowered and share that empowerment with one another. This program is all about Women Mentoring Women which is a value that this is community has been built on from the very beginning.”
Areej AbuAli, Founder of ‘Women in Tech SEO’
Participating in a mentoring program like this is a great opportunity to interact with a mentor who has extensive knowledge and experience in their field. The mentor will hopefully be able to both professionally and personally guide you and inspire you to reach your goals. And as a bonus, they’ll be able to introduce you to other potential connections that might help you in your career or on your personal path in life.
3. Join an incubator
Incubators and accelerators are companies that help new entrepreneurs grow and develop their business. These places are usually run by top investors who have a keen interest in specific industries.
These investors are usually well-versed in suggesting improvements to startups, managing day-to-day issues and nudging you in the right direction when needed.
Most incubators you’ll find near your area might be related to technology businesses. But there are certainly incubators for other fields too. Make sure you search your area carefully to find an incubator that’s relevant to your business.
4. Connect with mentors on LinkedIn
On LinkedIn, you can connect with other entrepreneurs, investors, industry professionals, thought leaders and more from all around the world. This gives you an opportunity to take your mentoring relationship beyond physical limits.
You can use LinkedIn to find a mentor related to any field. Because this mentor will most likely be a stranger you’ve never met, you need to be strategic in how you approach them and make the “ask.”
Here are some tips on building a relationship with a mentor on LinkedIn:
- Follow the mentor first before connecting with them
- Interact with the mentor’s content to help build a relationship before you reach out
- Share your own professional opinions, advice, triumphs and failures in your content and see if your prospective mentor comments on it to offer advice
If you continue doing the above, you might end up getting noticed by your prospective mentor. This is when you can ask for a one-one interaction, whether online or face-to-face, to discuss professional ideas and issues.
If all things go well, you can ask them to be your mentor.
5. Leverage online resources and tools
Finding mentors online isn’t just limited to LinkedIn. Here are some handy resources to help you find a potential mentor.
A nonprofit organisation with over 10,000 mentors, SCORE primarily focuses on providing business mentorship.
To find a mentor, you can either enter a postcode to look for a local mentor in your area or search for a keyword related to your own business.
This platform has a large list of hand-picked mentors mainly in the growth marketing niche.
You can easily add filters to narrow down your searches, like skills, industry expertise, availability, rates, language and others.
Micromentor is another platform that connects mentors and mentees for free. It’s active in over 40 countries and is even accessible in multiple languages.
To begin your search for a mentor, simply create a profile, complete a mentor request and contact mentors relevant to your field.
How to approach a mentor
Finding a mentor who is a good fit is relatively easy, as there are tons of free sources that point you in the right direction. The hard part is approaching your ideal mentor and getting them to agree to start mentoring you.
The rule of thumb is:
Don’t make the big ask right away, and avoid using the word “mentor”.
Using the word “mentor” in the beginning of a relationship can often drive away a potential mentor, as they might perceive the task as too big a commitment and responsibility.
However, you can use the word later on when you have a relationship that allows this level of comfort.
Here are some more tips on approaching a mentor.
1. Choose the right channel
There are multiple ways to reach out to a mentor. The one you choose should depend on a couple of factors, such as your existing relationship with the mentor and their physical location.
Here are the three major channels you can use.
- Email. Whilst not the most ideal channel to make the “ask”, email can definitely help lay the groundwork for the actual commitment.
Sending an introductory email is a great way to request or schedule an initial conversation, such as a face-to-face meeting. Make sure you express genuine interest in their work and thank them for considering your request for a conversation.
- Social media. Familiarise yourself with their posts, updates and articles on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter.
Show your mentor that you appreciate their thoughts and work by liking, commenting, sharing and retweeting. If they respond to your engagement, you can send them a personal message to schedule a meet.
- In-person. The best way to approach a mentor is via face-to-face interaction. Your body language can go a long way in influencing how a mentor feels about getting into a relationship with you.
Plus, in-person meetups are generally better for both parties to get to know each other, ask questions and discuss the expectations and desired outcomes of a potential mentoring relationship.
Choosing the right channel is key to building a successful relationship with your mentor. Take things step-by-step and make sure you don’t start off on the wrong foot.
2. Lead the conversation
Mentors know exactly what they bring to the table, but they need to better understand your commitment and passion to grow in order to feel comfortable with making the investment. To make that happen, they need to know you better.
Leading the conversation helps you effectively convey your expectations, the kind of advice or guidance you’re looking for and even the current status of your business.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your mentor speak. Bring up topics of discussions, ask questions and listen closely to what they have to say.
A mentor’s time is extremely valuable. As this is a special relationship, make the most of their time and learn anything and everything they have to offer.
3. Take things slow
You might need to reach out to a mentor more than once to get them to respond. And even if they do agree to meet with you, you might need to schedule more than one meeting to know each other better and get them on board.
A good mentoring relationship is built gradually. There has to be a lot of trust and confidence between the mentor and mentee to disclose sensitive business information, as well as personal and professional problems.
4. Respect their time and decision
Your prospective mentor may turn you down, but there could be many reasons why they choose not to accept your offer.
Instead of jumping to conclusions, respect their decision and understand that they probably have a good reason behind it.
For example, they might be mentoring another person, or they might not know much about your industry. It’s also possible that they simply don’t have the time.
Be courteous if they say no. If they’re available in the near future, they might reach out to you themselves or suggest a replacement.
5. Offer something in return
A mentoring relationship is a mutually beneficial one. Before you approach a mentor, think about what you are able to offer them in return.
Mentors are very likely to accept a mentee who adds value to their skill-set.
Show them that you’re ready to commit to their process and won’t run away from a challenge. Most of the time, simply sharing your own unique ideas with a mentor can help convince them.
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion—effective, two-way communication will only strengthen your mentoring relationship.
Quick Tip: Learn how to improve your business communication skills in our guide to becoming a more effective business communicator.
Finding a mentor who is a good fit can help business owners and entrepreneurs take bigger leaps towards success.
A mentor can help you grow professionally, learn new skills, and open your mind to new ideas and ways of thinking. You can find a mentor in your own professional or personal circle, or connect with them online.
Make sure you approach your ideal mentor intelligently and convince them that you are the right person for them. If you can prove that you’re an asset worth investing in, and the mentor has the availability, you’ll seal the deal.
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Photo by Amy Hirschi, published on Unsplash