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Mentors can help you succeed in a new career

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.

Jennifer James shares advice on how to find a mentor in the book Dream Careers. She says great things about mentors are that their advice is up-to-the-minute, personalized to your situation, and interactive – 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.”

I have seen firsthand how helpful mentors can be to career-changers. Students taking part-time certificate courses at my career college (International Association of Professions Career College) get up to a half hour per week of one-on-one time with a faculty member by Skype, phone, or email. During that time, the students – many of whom are working full-time in other career fields – can ask for and receive personal advice on any aspect of getting started and succeeding in their dream career.

Chosen both for their real-world experience and topnotch coaching skills, IAP College faculty members are typical of good mentors. For example, the faculty member for the Event Planner Certificate Course is Calgarian Jan Riddell, who has planned all kinds of events with up to 2,500 people for organizations such as CBC.

Students in the Business Consultant Certificate Course can turn to faculty member Sherry Moir, whose vast experience includes serving as a business mentor with Western Economic Diversification Canada. While the faculty member for Fashion and Personal Shopper courses is another Canadian, Irini Michaelidis, who has worked for companies such as Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton, and Holt Renfrew.

If you don’t have access to professionals like these in your dream career, ask people you know for introductions and attend events where you’re likely to meet people working in the career you want to break into. James says informal networking is a great way to start off building relationships with people who can help you along in your career.

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.

To make the most of your relationship, look for a mentor who, as much as possible, shares your intended career 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 wont 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.

This can be a win-win for both of you – they benefit from your help while you learn from their experience.

Tag Goulet is co-founder of and Academic Director of the International Association of Professions Career College which offers certificates for dream careers online at