Looking for Mentors in All the Wrong Places

August 27, 2013

Everyone is always saying how important it is to have a mentor. A mentor can guide you in your decisions and help you realize your goals. A good mentor/mentee relationship can drastically improve your career and lead you to success you never imagined possible. It seems like finding a good mentor is the golden ticket for working in a fulfilling job and leading a happy life. Find a good mentor and success will follow.


But what if you haven’t found a good mentor? What if you can’t find a mentor at all?


We hear from a lot of people who have trouble finding mentors. Our advice? Expand your definition of what a mentor is and what that relationship should look like. Here are some dos and don'ts to follow when you are looking for a mentor.


Your mentor does have to:

  • Teach you something: It’s not mentoring if all you do is talk about your family or weekend plans. Friends may give you career advice and mentors may be friendly towards you, but make sure that your mentor relationship is actually beneficial to your career.
  • Spend time with you: You don’t need to pencil in set times to meet with your mentor, but you both need to devote at least some time to your relationship. Sending an email with a quick question, meeting for coffee, or setting up a call are all great ways to connect with your mentor. 
  • Trust you—and vice versa: There are times when you may feel vulnerable and disheartened about your career. You may be looking to switch jobs or have an ethical dilemma that you want help with. You should be able to approach your mentor with these issues and know that you will receive sound and confidential advice.

Your mentor does not have to:

  • Be your same gender: You may feel more comfortable seeking advice from someone your same gender, but don’t discount the knowledge and insight that both men and women bring to the workplace. By choosing a mentor that is a different gender from you, you may learn to view your challenges in a different way.
  • Be older than you: Most people would jump at the chance to have coffee with Marissa Mayer or Mark Zuckerberg. They probably have amazing stories to tell about their careers. They are also both under 40 (Zuckerberg is only 29!). If you know that you lack particular skills and want to get better at them, you should seek advice from people that know the ins and outs of a particular technology or aspect of business. Sometimes those people will be seasoned veterans in a particular field, but sometimes they will be young workers with an innate talent for whatever it is you want to learn.
  • Work with you: Sure, someone who works in your organization or industry will have a much better idea of what challenges you face, but someone from the outside will be able to see your problems from a unique perspective and be able to provide you with fresh ideas on how to solve those problems. 
  • Be “official”: While it would be nice to have an experienced professional available to answer all your questions at all hours of the day, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find someone who wants to devote that much time to mentoring you right off the bat. Don’t feel pressured to define your mentoring relationship or schedule set meeting times to chat. You may find that “mentoring in the moment” works better for both you and the person you’re seeking advice from.

Good luck in your search for a mentor! Once you’ve found one, consider asking him or her some of our suggested questions.