Monday, April 1, 2013

3 Questions to Ask Before you Seek Out a Mentor

"Get a mentor" is a common exhortation for those who are struggling with creating direction and traction in their careers. A mentor is someone with elevated knowledge, skills, abilities, and/or perspectives that gives guidance to another, and research has shown that a mentor benefits you in terms of promotion, employee engagement, and career satisfaction.

But before you start hunting for a mentor, take a pause. What work do you need to do on yourself before you bring a mentor into the mix? Here are three questions to ask of yourself before you seek a mentor out.

What problem(s) am I looking to solve? Before you consider reaching out to a potential mentor, ask yourself what your end goal or objective is. Are there skills that you are looking to acquire, knowledge you would like to obtain, or would you benefit from a certain perspective that a mentor has? A mentoring relationship will not go very far and will not at all be fruitful if you do not know where you would like to go; you will feel frustrated at the end and your mentor will feel as if she wasted her time. Get clear about your purpose.

Is a mentor who I need right now? Considering the problem you have decided upon solving, reflect on where you want to go in your career and ask yourself if you know the general direction (i.e. you have honed in on a particluar field or company) or if you are still exploring? It could be that - instead of a mentor - you would be better off working with a career coach or counselor. All three - a coach, a counselor, and a mentor - bring different skills and perspectives to your problem. A mentor functions best within a particular career context (like a certain industry or company); a career counselor or coach can help you if you need to be more exploratory and intentionally unfocused in your approach.

Am I willing to put in the work? This is a critical question as a mentor has little time for those who are not willing to put in their time. After you have determined what problem(s) you would like to tackle and that a mentor is the right person with which to work, it is incumbent upon you to take initiative in the following areas:

  • Scheduling a meeting
  • Preparing discussion topics
  • Engaging in dialogue that could challenge your assumptions and beliefs
  • Completing assignments that a mentor gives
  • Gauging your experience with you mentor to determine if it is meeting your needs

A true mentor relationship should be 90 percent you, 10 percent your mentor. Their role is to help you help yourself overcome that gap between where you are and where you want to long as you properly plan and prepare.

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