The concept of mentoring dates back to Greek mythology — it is first mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus begins his famous journey, he leaves his infant son in the care of a companion named Mentor.
Mentoring can be defined as a relationship between individuals who are cast in mentor/mentee roles: the mentor’s responsibility is to impart knowledge gained through experience to the mentee as a means of professional development. Researchers have discovered that mentoring not only helps the mentee advance in their chosen field but that mentoring also plays a role in the development of self-esteem and work identity.
Although mentoring is widely acknowledged as having a positive impact on long-term career success, it is also a relationship. And like any other meaningful relationship, mentoring is most successful when the needs of all parties are met.
To increase your chances of finding the mentor that’s exactly right for you and crafting the best mentorship experience, heed these three tips:
- Get out of the house. When people ask how to find a mentor, the first question is always, “What groups do you belong to?” Willing and appropriate mentors can’t be expected to even know you exist if you don’t make the effort to be active in the professional communities that matter. Yes, meeting new people can be challenging, but the sooner you learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, the easier showing up will be. When you start showing up in the community, more and more faces will become familiar, making it easier to connect with potential mentors. Networking becomes routine.
- Make yourself useful. Before you ask for anything from your new community, look for areas where you can be helpful yourself. No community is without its tasks that need to get done — and there is a very large chance that these tasks are the responsibility of a few hardworking, overly-committed individuals who would love to a helping hand. By taking ownership, you not only provide a service and build a positive reputation, but you also create a space for yourself within the very community which has the mentors you are looking for. When you become a member of the team you are no longer the outsider. People will learn your name and become invested in your success.
- Ask for help. Once you’ve become an active member of the community, it is time to ask for help. Take some time to identify and outline the specific kind of support you need: advice on starting a company, tips on how to negotiate salary, contacts to move to the next level within your industry, etc. It is critical to be specific and have clearly defined outcomes. This ensures you are respectful of people’s time and allows the potential mentor to evaluate whether helping you is a good fit for them. On that note, don’t take a decline of an offer to help personally! In fact, it is much better for all parties to be honest upfront to avoid relationship tension down the road.
Once you have identified an interested, appropriate, and enthusiastic mentor, develop a mutually agreeable set of relationship outcomes — and get to work!
Kim Crayton has years of experience working with learners of all ages, skill level, and abilities. She is now using her knowledge of how learners learn to develop strategies that introduce people to technology and to help support individuals learning to code.