How to Find a Mentor in 5 Steps

By: Keith Krach

Those who fail to routinely analyze their career path often find themselves left behind while others succeed. To help navigate the constantly changing market, entrepreneurs and business leaders alike should consider seeking out a mentor.

The majority of executives recognize the value of having access to the insights and experience of someone who has successfully charted his or her own course. Nevertheless, many people, for one reason or another, don’t take advantage of the help a professional guide can offer.

Those who are ready to seek out a mentor should take the following steps:

1. Start with introspection.

The first step should be to look inward to identify the areas where one needs the most help. A good way to gather information is to ask coworkers for honest feedback. In addition to reaching out to current colleagues, people should query ones from previous positions who have had the chance to observe their professional growth.

Along with identifying key areas for improvement, such as a particular leadership skill or ideas about how to enter a new market, entrepreneurs and executives should analyze their personalities and understand how they would collaborate best with a career guide. This knowledge will prove crucial in ultimately finding the right mentor. Through this introspection, leaders will also be able to identify specifics, rather than general goals, to work toward, which will help them get the most out of a mentorship relationship.

2. Develop a list of expectations.

Completing a thorough self-examination naturally leads to compiling a list of action items. Putting these thoughts in writing will allow for further reflection and refining, plus these lists will be useful for prospective mentors to review. In addition to laying out one’s self-improvement goals, individuals should use these notes to determine what qualifications will constitute the perfect candidate for their needs.

One thing business leaders should consider when envisioning their ideal mentor is that the right person may not hold the obvious credentials. For example, an individual with advanced degrees and a pedigree of nothing but successes may not be able to offer the most useful insights. However, an established CEO who experienced and overcame a major setback might be in a position to provide more meaningful advice.

3. Open up to new possibilities.

Executives and startup owners may be inclined to leverage their existing network when beginning the mentor search. In some cases, a business leader might not have to look any further. However, exploring beyond the obvious options may yield the best results. The hunt, in fact, should resemble the process of finding a new hire, including tapping into new circles and often checking in the least likely places. One might even connect with someone from a completely different industry.

Building a network exclusively for mentorship can have long-term benefits as well. For instance, leaders may eventually want to reach out and take on their own mentee. With the right connections in place, they can more easily meet and assist the right people.

4. Meet with a few candidates.

Some might suggest narrowing down the list of mentors to a single candidate and then requesting a meeting. However, because it’s hard to accurately judge someone based solely on his or her resume or references, it’s a good idea to have a few well-researched options available. People should also view meetings with top candidates as interviews; they should explain what conclusions they reached through introspection, the expectations they have, and any other pertinent details that make them stand out.

Business leaders should pay careful attention to how each prospective mentor responds and interacts with them. These interviews should also include a focus on how the mentee plans to benefit the mentor. What many people forget is that mentorship operates best as a two-way relationship.

5. Reach a clear agreement.

After fully weighing the options and arriving at a decision, the final step is to formally and clearly establish the relationship contract. Both parties must agree with how the mentorship will progress, including any necessary boundaries, the frequency of in-person meetings, and the dynamics of additional communication (i.e., phone calls, e-mails, etc.).

The relationship should also begin with a mutual acknowledgment of trust and confidentiality. Mentor and mentee each bring something to the table, and both must respect and value the relationship. Doing so helps foster an optimal partnership in which both sides reap a return on their investment.