How do I get a mentor at my company?

Answer by Scott Koon:

Congratulations!  The fact that you are interested in having a mentor is a huge step along the path of career success.  The short answer to your question is to find someone you admire and ask them.  

Now for the longer answer. 

Successful mentoring partnerships are driven by the protégé.  He or she should instigate the relationship, schedule meetings, identify questions they are interested in learning about, and set specific agendas.  If you are waiting for someone to introduce you to a formal mentor, or aren't serious about driving the relationship you will likely be disappointed with the results. 

However, before you start asking folks for help, you need to know that how you ask may be just as important as whom you ask.  Let me explain.  It will be much easier for someone to agree to be your mentor if you are able to explain why you are coming to them, and what you hope to achieve.  So, spend a few minutes thinking about why you would like to have a mentor, what you would like to learn from them, and what kind of relationship you would like to have.  

Once you have answers to these three questions, you can start your search.  Look for people that are already successful doing what you hope to do.  If you are just looking to integrate into a new company, look for someone who appears successful.  Look for the person who has the boss' trust as well as the trust of his or her co-workers.  If you hope to improve a specific skill, look for individuals that have reputations for consistently exceeding expectations for that skill.

Once you have identified a few candidates, start asking them if they have time and are willing to help.  I would recommend formatting the question as follows.

First, identify their area of expertise and how you noticed it.  Second, identify what you are trying to do/learn.  Finally, ask if they would be willing to take coffee or do lunch to talk to you about how they developed their expertise.  Don't ask for a long relationship right away.

It might sound something like this.  "Jan, can I ask you something?  I've noticed everyone in your department comes to you when they have questions about leadership.  I'm very interested in improving my leadership skills.  Would you be willing to talk about how you got to be so good at it?  I'd be happy to buy you lunch or take you to coffee."

Use that first meeting to test the waters.  Is this someone with whom you will be able to talk honestly?  Would you be able to accept constructive feedback from them?  Do your personalities complement each other?  Does it feel right?  If the answers are "yes", then ask them if they would be willing to help you further.  If they are willing, then discuss your thoughts regarding future meetings.

If the answer is "no" to any of the questions, then move to the next person on your list.

A few parting thoughts:
1. Informal mentorships are often more successful than formal partnerships.
2. A mentoring relationship should be considered temporary–usually less than two years.  Agree to a time-frame up front.  It will help both parties commit.
3. Don't try to hang on to a relationship that has outlived its usefulness.  It is okay to maintain social connection, but make certain you both understand and agree.
4. Have fun.  A mentoring relationship should be enjoyable.
5. It is okay to have multiple mentors. 
6. Mentoring should never take the place of talking with your manager/supervisor.   Forgetting this can be dangerous to your career.

Good luck in your search!  I hope this is the beginning of many successful partnerships.

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