5 Ways to Develop a Mentor Relationship

Advancing your career and finding the right employer and position fit doesn’t have to be complicated. There are things you can do each day to advance toward your dream job and thrive at work. The following article is part of a 5 Ways Series that offers resources and tips on leadership and career advancement you can use. 

Having a mentor is a beneficial two-way relationship that can increase the mentee’s performance and work-life satisfaction. Research shows that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs and of those with a mentor, 97% say they are valuable. And yet, only 37% of professionals have a mentor, Forbes reports. Mentoring can help generations of employees: 89% of those who have been mentored will also go on to mentor others, according to McCarthy Mentoring.

Young people in particular experience significant positive life outcomes related to academics, community involvement and leadership, and career development when they are mentored, according to research.

That’s true for Corey Anthony, chief diversity officer at AT&T (Hall of Fame on Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list). One of Anthony’s first mentors shaped the rest of his professional career and became a major reason why he still spends a lot of time mentoring.

“I know how much I benefited. I have a ton of mentors and mentees, both inside and outside of AT&T, and at all levels in the business,” Anthony said. “I have mentors who are in levels higher than where I am, and I have mentors in the business that are four or five levels below where I am, because they’re insightful and they give me honest, candid feedback. And I have mentees across the same spectrums. We share perspectives that we might not be exposed to otherwise.”

Here are five ways to find and develop a relationship with a mentor:

1. Define the goals you want to achieve when working with a mentor and for your career overall, as well as your unique needs as an employee.

According to MIT’s human resources department, the best practices for goal-setting are clearly communicating and writing them down, including performance and development aspects, are aligned with your job description and frequently revisited with both your manager and mentor. The Harvard Business Review also recommends listing out obstacles you may see and what you think you need to work on, such as expanding your network or building confidence.

2. Define who your ideal mentor is and why you need someone with a particular type of work or life experience.

Think of both the who and the why, such as why you need this type of mentor. Knowing why you need a mentor will help you more quickly find someone who can fit your needs. But on top of knowing who and why, it’s just as important to “demonstrate an ongoing curiosity and to continue to be willing to invest in your skillset,” according to Roger Ferguson, the president and CEO of TIAA (No. 9 on the Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list).

3. Be open to finding a mentor in a variety of arenas.

Your ideal mentor may be at the company you work at now, but maybe not. Look for a mentor through current professional connections and even LinkedIn. Be patient with yourself and the process. Some people you ask may so no, but don’t forget that being asked to be a mentor is a compliment to the person so don’t be discouraged. They may not have the time to work with you or they may know someone who would be an even better fit.

4. Asking someone to be your mentor might feel awkward, but it’s a necessary step.

Keep the ask clear and simple. Start out by asking for a conversation to learn more about them, though it’s almost important to already know at least some basic facts so it’s obvious they could possibly be a good fit for what you need. If they agree to be open to being a mentor, that’s when it’s time to move on to a first meeting.

5. When you meet with your mentor for the first time, spend time getting to know them more so you can both feel confident that it’s a proper fit.

Ask lots of questions of them and be clear about your intentions, such as asking, “Would it be okay if I followed up with you again in one month after I make some progress towards my goals?” From there, develop a structured meeting and accountability process, recommends the HBR, including a meeting calendar and timelines to meet goals.

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