Wouldn’t it be helpful to have someone to call when you were having a career crisis? Someone who had experienced the same challenges you are, learned their lessons the hard way, and was willing to save you time and effort by showing you how to do things right the first time?
Well, here’s some good news: these fabulous people do exist, and they are called mentors. A mentor is someone who is willing to give you personal training and advice about breaking into a particular career, either for free, for money, or for an exchange of services.
The great thing about a mentor is that their advice is up-to-the-minute, personalized to your situation, and interactive in that “you ask, they tell.” And if you play your cards right, you could have a person to turn to for help making career-related decisions for years to come.
Jennifer James shares advice on how to find a mentor in Dream Careers. She says informal networking is a great way to start off building relationships with people who can help you along in your career.
Look for mentors in your workplace, or if you want to change careers, ask for introductions and attend events where you’re likely to meet people working in the career you want to break into.
As you develop these relationships, you will likely come across some people who are extra friendly, extra helpful, or just someone you click with right away. These people are likely candidates for being willing to take the relationship to a more personal level and becoming a mentor to you.
If it’s not possible to connect with a mentor in person, Internet message boards often have resident experts who answer questions from newcomers, and they may be open to starting a personal mentoring relationship with you.
To make the most of your relationship, look for a mentor who, as much as possible, shares your intended specialty, your values, and your way of doing business. If you can’t find all this in one person, you may want to approach more than one mentor to round out the advice you receive. However, do not expect someone to mentor you if you are planning to compete with them for a job or business.
Once you have identified one or a few potential mentors, approach them in person, by phone, or email and ask to meet with them for coffee or lunch. Here are some points to discuss:
Explain why you selected them as a potential mentor. This may be their success within a specific industry you are interested in, or it may be that you admire their skills.
Make a specific request. Don’t just say you want them to be your mentor; explain what you are asking. Do you want to talk with them on the telephone once a week for 20 minutes? Do you want to meet with them once a month over lunch? Do you want to communicate with them on a weekly basis via email?
Be open to their offer of an alternative method of contact, as you are the one asking for a favor. Some people shy away from mentoring because they fear it will take too much time or energy. Assure your potential mentor this won’t be the case.
Offer something back. In industries that are challenging to break into, some professionals make a living by mentoring others. While some professional mentors charge an hourly fee for mentoring, other mentors will provide the service at no charge.
However, there may be many demands on a busy professional’s time, so think about what you can offer in return. A free lunch is a start, but it’s better to volunteer your services. Maybe you are a computer whiz and can offer to set up her new computer network. Or maybe you are an excellent writer, and can offer to write his marketing materials.
If they are located nearby, you could also propose an unpaid internship where you would help out in the professional’s office on a part-time basis at no charge to them. This can be a win-win for both of you — they benefit from your help while you learn from their experience.