Mentoring is an important career strategy that provides countless benefits. Although everyone should have a mentor, finding one is not always an easy process. This can be especially true for women in the workplace, for a variety of reasons (including the fact some men may feel hesitant and/or uncomfortable mentoring female colleagues).
But any limitations women encounter should not stop them from seeking a mentor. Instead, women should envision the type of mentoring relationship they want—and then go after it.
Here are some tips for creating that vision.1. Define what you want in a mentor. Are you looking for someone who can focus on your career development in terms of advancement, or are you looking for someone to be a sounding board regarding where you are today in your career?
Other things to consider: The type of personality you're hoping to work with. Do you want someone who is warm? A good listener? Assertive? A "go-getter"? Do you want primarily a listener, a strategist, or a combination?
Another important consideration is to find someone who is willing to discuss the issues that women face. And not just willing to discuss but also able to understand these issues and consider them when offering advice or ideas.
One final note: Since mentoring is all about forging a relationship, knowing what you want out of it is critical. Be sure your mentor is on the same page by discussing one another's expectations.2. Make a list of potential mentors and think broadly. Consider the following resources:
- Current colleagues
- Alumni associations
- Professional organizations (including ones that cater specifically to women, such as Women's Leadership Live)
- Your circle of friends
- Religious organizations you belong to
- Social networking sites (LinkedIn is great for this)
When making the list, consider not only people who might be your mentor, but also people who might introduce you to a mentor. For example, your best friend might work for a company where a person you admire professionally also works. Your friend could set up an introduction with this person to see if the two of you are a good fit.3. From your list, select the top three candidates you want to consider and gather information about them. Things to research: their background, their reputation, their career development, and their personality.
For some mentorees, a person's reputation may matter more than career development. Each of us has different needs and preferences, which is what makes mentoring a unique experience for everyone. You can get this information from colleagues who know the individual, the person who recommended the potential mentor, or through online profiles (e.g. LinkedIn).4. Once you've done this homework, the next step is to reach out to the person and ask. Be prepared to clearly articulate the following:
- That you're looking for a mentor and you thought he/she would we be a good fit.
- The specific assistance you're seeking from this person. Sales skills, political savvy, a clear career pathway that is similar to theirs, and so forth.
- How often you want to meet/communicate with this person. The standard in the industry is two times a month for 1 to 1.5 hours in person or via phone, Skype, etc.
Regarding the first bullet point above: If a colleague or friend introduced you to the person, you probably won't feel too overwhelmed when asking. If, however, you're "cold calling," consider inviting the person to have coffee or lunch first—label it a networking session. Get to know the person—and allow him or her to get to know you. Do this a couple of times, if necessary. If it feels right, then you can ask.
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