Mentors: How to choose them wisely

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The wise, experienced mentor, ahead of you on the career path, ready to guide you through your goals and aspirations, can be invaluable … but only if you find the right person. A mismatch of personalities or a misunderstanding of what outcome you’re looking for sounds the death knell on a good mentoring relationship.

“It’s always important to have a career mentor because that’s a person you can go to, that’s a person you can emulate,” Canadian Youth Business Foundation manager of mentoring Janice Weir says. CYBF matches young entrepreneurs with experienced business mentors for two years. “You can learn the steps they’ve taken to get to where they are and some of the pitfalls to avoid on your career path,” she says.

The organization spends a lot of time networking to find suitable candidates and she suggests individuals do the same – the more people you meet, the more likely you are to find a good match. CYBF goes through a long process to match mentor and mentoree, from interviewing the young entrepreneur about their needs and goals to ensuring personalities match; finally, both individuals do on online introduction to clarify the parameters of the relationship and the goals.

The key question to ask is what the mentoree is hoping to get out of this mentoring relationship. Do they want to stand out more at work? Do they want to move into consulting, or get to the C-suite? Look for someone in the industry whose career they would like to emulate, and whose strengths match their weaknesses.

When you’re pitching a potential mentor, flattery will go a long way. Be honest about why you would like their support, and talk them through exactly what you’re looking for. The benefit for the mentor, Weir says, is satisfaction at sharing their knowledge and experience with someone else and seeing them succeed.

Network with purpose

While many organizations have an internal mentoring program for graduates and new recruits, external programs can be more effective. And with the advent of professional social networking and a resurgence in professional associations, those seeking a mentor have more ways than ever before to network and find the right person themselves.

When it comes to networking, quality matters more than quantity, author of Are You Stuck in a Girls' Club? Whitney Johnson says. One way of networking is to simply ask for introductions. By reaching out to influential people already in their network, professionals can get in touch with others. Being specific about the introductions they want, why they want them, explaining what they are trying to achieve and the kind of contacts that would help them get there all help.

Suggestions to employees for finding their own mentor

  1. Clarify what they want: Determine what they want to get out of the mentoring relationship, what specific areas they’re looking to develop, and who they should target to help them in that specific area.
  2. Network: When it comes to identifying who they could reach out to for mentoring, it’s a matter of networking. They may find their intended mentor on LinkedIn, directly through a company, via informal networking, or even reading something they have written.
  3. Nail the pitch: If they decide to contact someone who doesn’t know them, they’ve got to put together a pitch as to why they want that person to help them.

The key of successful mentoring is to find a mentor who has the skills, knowledge and personal experiences that will help the employee achieve their goals and develop the skills they need to work more efficiently and productively.


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