5 Tips for Finding a Meaningful Mentor

By: Jordan DeTar / May 28, 2019

I’ll never forget my first female mentor. It was my sophomore year in high school, and we were nearing the end of the year, also known as “election season.” In April of every year, all the student organizations hold elections for the following year’s executive board. Being a sophomore, this didn’t hold much significance to me. Sure, I was very active in all my clubs, but I was only going to be a junior the next year, and executive positions were typically reserved for seniors.

One afternoon, the teacher overseeing our school’s Key Club – the largest club in the school that organized community service activities for the student body – approached me about running for the next year’s leadership team. “Me?”, I thought to myself. I was only a rising junior. How could I even be a consideration for the school’s largest club? She continued to say that she thought I would make a great part of the Key Club leadership team, and that my junior status shouldn’t stop me from running.

Three weeks later, after multiple meetings with that teacher and a week of campaigning against a rising senior, I was named the Key Club’s President. For the first time in my life, I saw the power of female mentorship. Without Mrs. Cappa, I never would have run for Key Club President, and I likely never would have spent the next 2 years leading students both younger and older than me in delivering thousands of hours of community service to my local community. Without her mentorship, I wouldn’t have gone for the position, and I likely wouldn’t have become known as a leader within my high school. Female mentorship matters.

In the first 9 months of my career, I can honestly say that it’s the people who have mentored me – those who have made a pointed effort to invest in me and my career growth – that have made my time in the workplace challenging, exciting, and fulfilling. They have helped me to formulate my goals, build my network, and eventually get staffed on the types of projects that energize and challenge me. Working at such a large company, it’s my female mentors that have provided the “big firm, small feel” environment that makes me feel supported and valued as an employee.

But how did I find these people? The process of identifying mentors can be confusing, stressful, and uncomfortable. There’s been a lot of talk about mentorship in recent years, and the pressure to find a mentor can be overwhelming – especially when you’re new to a company. However, the benefits of mentorship are far too incredible to let the anxiety of finding the right mentor hinder you.

Read on for my 5 tips on finding a meaningful mentor that will help to jumpstart your career.

Before you get started, download this Mentorship Matrix to identify the gaps in the mentorship department.

1. Know What You’re Looking For

Before finding a mentor, you’ll want to think about what it is that you’re looking for in the relationship. Are you new to a company and want to know how to succeed within your role? Or maybe you are looking to make an internal transition and seeking advice on how to do so.  Or perhaps, it’s about learning a new skill and hearing about how someone else got there. Regardless of the situation, it’s important to know what you’re seeking. Tony Conrad, founder of about.me says that understanding your goals and setting clear expectations is the #1 secret to finding a mentor. This will help you to narrow down who to talk to and network with, which will lead to finding mentor(s) that best align with your circumstances. Much of the confusion that emerges around finding a mentor relates to looking to the wrong person for advice. By taking the time to sit down and strategically think about what guidance you need, you’ll be better positioned to identify the right person.

2. Ask for What you Want

Research has shown that while men tend to actively seek mentors, women are less likely to engage in mentoring relationships unless they are sought out. This leads to less women having mentors, and therefore less women receiving the necessary guidance and advice to advance within their careers. I was recently talking with one of my mentors about an interest I have in an area unrelated to her work, and she encouraged me to set up career coaching calls with another woman who focuses on that area. Initially, I thought it would be awkward to ask. However, I went ahead and sent a message anyway explaining my desire to gain more experience in her area of expertise, and I asked if we could chat once a month about it. She readily agreed, and four months later, I look forward to those monthly conversations and would consider her to be one of the most impactful mentors in my network.

3. Pursue Multiple Mentors

While it’s important to look up to people as role models, you probably don’t want to mimic every single thing they’ve done. Rather, you want to take their experiences, draw insights from them, and use those to influence your own unique career path. What that in mind, there’s no single person who you can or should turn to for all mentorship matters – instead, you should seek the guidance of multiple women. I would say that I currently have 3 significant mentors at work, all of which provide me with guidance on different areas of my career. They vary in their past experiences and current roles, and it’s the combination of all three of their influences that provides me with direction in determining my own career goals. Personally, I’ve found that having more than one mentor has allowed me to draw different, yet equally valuable perspectives about my future in a way that substantially impacts my growth potential.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Look Outside of Your Office

As touched on above, there are many different reasons you might be seeking a mentor. In some cases, it relates to your specific company or role, but other times you’re just looking for someone to talk to about your career in general. One of my most cherished mentors works in an entirely different industry than I do, and she lives across the country in another city. When we meet, it’s usually about my broad career goals - like my desire to get an MBA sometime down the line, or my dream of one day starting my own company. She brings an entirely different perspective than the mentors I work with can offer, which has been helpful with my bigger picture goal planning. Don’t let the four walls of an office limit your mentor pool.

If there’s not someone in your company who you think fits what you need, look elsewhere. And if you’re not finding someone within your network, there are a number of companies that are working to help women find and foster these relationships. The famous dating app that promotes women making the first move, Bumble, has expanded its services to include networking. Now, with Bumble Bizz, you can search for and discover women in your area to connect with about your career goals, and perhaps you’ll find that mentor you’ve been looking for. The app is completely free, so why not give it a shot? It’s time you make the first move!

5. Seek More Than Simply Mentorship

At a recent Women in M&A Summit that I attended, we learned about the difference between “mentors” and “sponsors.” The way it was explained is that mentors provide guidance and advice, whereas sponsors actively advocate for and promote you. Mentors might be the ones to help you to navigate a difficult situation or build up a skillset and tackle a challenge, while sponsors are the people who champion you and provide you with stretch assignments and advancement opportunities.

It’s expected that you may tell your mentors something you’re struggling with, but it’s advised to focus more on your accomplishments and how to further excel with your sponsors. While both are equally important, a 2010 Catalyst study showed that despite more women having more formal mentors than men, 15% more men won promotions. Why is this? Men had more sponsors. Knowing the difference between who your mentors and sponsors are is critical to your career trajectory.

When engaging in relationships with more senior-level colleagues within your company or industry, be sure to differentiate between the two and take advantage of the benefits of both types of relationships. And when you’re ready to move up, look to your sponsors to pound the table for you.

Finding a mentor isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as you may have made it out to be. Mentors are supposed to ease your worries, not elevate them. Don’t stress yourself out too much, but be thoughtful in your approach and be sure you know what you’re seeking. And once you’ve found the right person, be sure to keep in touch. There’s nothing worse than finding a great mentor, and then seeing the relationship fall flat due to lack of engagement. Good luck!

So, Are You Ready to Up Your Mentorship Game?

If yes, I’d suggest taking the advice of Scott Mautz, author of “Find the Fire” and “Make it Matter.” In his Inc. article, he notes that there are 6 types of mentors who can help to make your career or business take off:

  • The Path Blazer - She’s an expert in her industry and gets sh*t done. She’ll open doors for you in ways that you didn’t think were possible.

  • The Sounding Board - She’s your go-to for advice; you can openly bounce ideas off her and she’ll help you to iterate and refine.

  • The Success Magnet - She’s probably not in your industry, but she’s a badass boss and usually one of the most accomplished in the room. She oozes success and achievement.

  • The Campaigner - She’s your biggest cheerleader, your chief advocate, and your ultimate connector. Essentially, she’s the sponsor referred to above.

  • The Mirror Mentor - She’s a straight shooter; she’ll hold up a mirror and tell you like it is. You love to hate her advice, but you need it, and you know it.

  • The Reverse Mentor - She’s probably younger than you, and can offer a perspective from the ground up. She’s a younger colleague or classmate, and your insight into

While I find his list to be quite exhaustive, I’d argue for one more:

  • The Inspirer - She’s your ultimate role model. When you think of yourself down the line, you hope to be like her. She’s your inspiration during every challenge and your reminder that what you want to achieve is possible.

Good luck with your search, and make sure to be strategic. Knowing what you’re looking for will help to streamline the process for the better. We also cover this topic in our eBook, check it out.

Jordan DeTar is the founder and chief writer of The Feminequity Factor, “a girl's guide to owning her life." Her personal blog focuses on embracing femininity, owning your life, and revolutionizing what it means to be a young, successful woman in today’s world.

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