Best practices and common mistakes to avoid

The value of having a mentor is obvious, but how do you go about finding one?

Whether you want to strengthen your leadership skills or simply invest in your personal development, a mentor is the perfect way to take your career to the next level. Mentoring provides new opportunities, opportunities for growth, access to resources and much more. If you want to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to improve your career growth, look no further than finding a mentor.

Many companies use mentoring programs to facilitate their internal mentoring programs. These tools include features for recruiting, registering and matching mentors/mentees, as well as tracking performance metrics throughout the process.

There are many approaches you can take to finding a teacher, which is why some people can feel overwhelmed at first. Check out some best practices for finding a teacher that meets your needs and some mistakes to avoid along the way.

Best Practices for Finding the Right Mentor

The first step to finding a mentor is understanding how to find them. There’s no right or wrong way to find a tutor, but there are some solid tips you can follow to get started. Here are a few to get the ball rolling.

Do not approach a stranger

This does not mean that you can only be mentored by someone you currently know, but rather that you must have had a previous relationship with your mentor. The person you ask to be your mentor should not be surprised by your questioning, nor should they question who you are in the process. Focus on building relationships before asking someone to guide you for greater chances of success.

Look outside your company

While your current place of employment is a great place to start your search, it shouldn’t be limited there. There are many places you can expand your mentorship search that will give you more options and a better chance of success.

Additionally, seeking a mentor outside of work will give you the opportunity to work with someone who is not biased from your general workplace. An outside perspective can be very beneficial to your growth.

Look for mentors who are not above you

Too many people are busy looking for mentors older than them, and they miss the peer-level mentors right in front of them. Just because someone has the same title as you, doesn’t mean they can’t be an effective mentor.

Try to find someone you admire in your immediate team and colleagues. What qualities do you admire in them? What can you learn from them? Keep these things in mind. These are the most important things in a mentor, not what their title is.

Be patient

The ugly truth about mentoring is that it will probably take a fair amount of trial and error. Chances are, the first person you ask to be your mentor won’t be interested or will be too busy. Don’t let that discourage you from the process. Be patient and keep working hard to build relationships.

Invest in more than one mentor

This may be the one time in your life when it’s okay to be greedy. If you have the time and ability to invest in more than one mentor, you absolutely should. Not only will this enhance the skills you learn, but making strong connections is never a bad thing.

Find someone who didn’t have the skills

Mentoring is about growth. While it can be tempting to target someone who reminds you of yourself, you may be better off finding someone who has different strengths than you. This will give them a chance to learn from you and also give you a chance to improve on the things you’re not good at. Learning new skills can be just as valuable, if not more so, than the skills you already have.

Where to find a tutor?

Now that you know some tips for finding your mentor, it’s time to learn where to look. There are countless places you can find a professional mentor outside of your own workplace. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Online mentoring networks

If you’re looking for a direct route to finding your perfect tutor, there are dozens of sites specifically designed for just that. Online platforms like SCORE and Million Women Mentors are perfect places to start your mentorship search.

Many online mentoring networks have associated costs. However, they are a valuable investment for anyone looking to cut through a complicated search and connect with potential mentors who are ready to jump right in.

Professional networking events

Any professional networking event is a gold mine of potential mentors. Don’t let the short-term nature of a networking event keep you from keeping your eyes open.

Start working the room and find someone you click with. Once you’ve talked to them a bit, ask about ways to stay in touch with them (social media, email, professional associations, etc.). After securing their contact information, you can develop the relationship online or at other events.

Volunteer opportunities

Volunteering is more than just a way to give back to your community or pad your resume; it’s an opportunity for you to meet people outside of your usual circle. The great thing about volunteering is that people from all walks of life participate. Additionally, you likely already have a common passion or interest depending on the volunteer work you choose.

Use your volunteer time to make connections and make friends with those you work with. You’ll be amazed at the connections you can make and the relationships that can grow. A weekly or monthly volunteer opportunity is the perfect place to naturally create a mentoring opportunity.

Social media

In some cases, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your home to find a tutor. You can do an entire search online using social media platforms to network on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Follow your favorite industry experts online and start interacting with their content. Read their posts, engage them in conversation and start connecting. Over time, you may find yourself developing professional relationships through your favorite social channel.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Looking for a Teacher

There are many common misunderstandings when it comes to mentoring, including what the role of mentor and mentee is. Before you dive in to find a mentor, take a moment to think about some mistakes to avoid.

Don’t think that mentoring is about you

The best mentor/mentee relationships are ones where everyone involved learns and grows from it. Don’t think your mentor can’t get anything out of your partnership.

Take a step back and ask yourself what you bring to the table as a mentee. What value can you add to the person you are asking to be your mentor? You want to make the decision to mentor the person you’re asking, and you can do this by thinking about what they’ll also get out of the relationship.

Don’t wait for a mentor to find you

The biggest mistake you can make when looking for a mentor is to keep your head down and hope someone finds you. Be an active participant in finding a mentor. Raise your hand at meetings, make your voice heard, and actively engage in projects and conversations with people you admire.

Don’t give up when the going gets tough

When done right, a mentorship opportunity should challenge you in ways you never expected. There is a good chance that you will go beyond your current capabilities and this can frustrate you at times.

Just because your mentorship isn’t actually part of your job doesn’t mean you can call it when things aren’t going your way. You won’t grow as a professional if you only stick to the things you’re good at. Embrace failure and learn from your mistakes as you grow.

Don’t be pushy or aggressive

There’s a good chance that the person you decide is your perfect mentor may not want to mentor you, and that’s okay. Life often throws a wrench into our perfectly laid plans, and it’s up to you to be flexible and roll with the punches.

Don’t waste your time bothering or pressuring someone to be more of a mentor than they are willing to be. Not only will the experience be unpleasant and impractical, but there’s a chance you could ruin a relationship in the process.

Alternatives to mentoring

Mentoring is not the only way to develop professionally. If seeking out a job mentor doesn’t sound like your style, or perhaps you’d prefer to work on your own professional development first, there are many alternatives you can explore.

Online and digital media

The Internet is an endless resource of professional development tools, many of which you can use while multitasking. Tools like industry newsletters, thought leadership blogs, podcasts, and web series are a way for you to explore your own skills and develop new ones.

Hint. Follow your favorite thought leaders on social media to stay up-to-date on the latest trends.

A great advantage of online and digital media is that there are many options, almost always free. You can explore new topics and skills without risking paying for something you later find you don’t like.

Professional development books

It’s the oldest trick in the book because it works. Industry professionals, CEOs, and thought leaders have been writing books for years about how they became subject matter experts in their field. Do a little research on the ten books that everyone in your field should read, and then go through the list.

Hint. Don’t pay for professional development books. Visit your local library to access these resources for free.

Online courses, certificate programs, and advanced degrees

If you’re looking for professional development that will give you something more tangible, you should look into online courses, certifications, or an advanced degree. They will take longer than reading a book or listening to a podcast, but they will often give you a deeper experience.

They also open up the opportunity to network with other industry professionals. Who knows? You can take a night class to get your MBA and walk away with a friend or a new mentorship opportunity.

Conferences and professional associations

If you’re looking for a professional development opportunity that focuses primarily on building relationships, conferences and professional associations may be right for you.

These “meetings of the minds” allow you to fully immerse yourself in your topic of expertise and interact with the most forward-thinking professionals in your field. There are often costs associated with attending conferences (travel, hotels, taxi fares, etc.), so plan ahead before you buy your ticket.

Hint. Some companies will sponsor employees to attend conferences in exchange for sharing knowledge gained during the event.

Being a mentee is a process, don’t rush it

The most important tip for anyone looking for a tutor is to take your time and not rush the process. You have your entire career to find someone to guide you in your growth, so make sure you do it right.

Wondering how you can begin to outline what you want to get out of your mentorship? Learn more about identifying your goals and objectives.

This article was originally published in 2019. It has been updated with new information.

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