What to Look For to Find the Right Professional Mentor

As a child, you most likely looked up to your parents to guide you through the early stages of life. They provided necessary items, like food and shelter, but more importantly showed you what to do (and what not to do) in terms of social norms. They were your go-to for everything — your source of inspiration and knowledge to prepare you for the scary and intimidating world that lay ahead.

But how do you adapt once you’ve grown up and moved on from your parents’ guidance, having to fend for yourself and hope that you make all of the right decisions? Are your needs for advice and direction supposed to fade in the rearview mirror along with your childhood? Who do you now look to for support as you transition from the needs of everyday life to the needs of your career?

Enter mentorship: the idea of forming a relationship with a person who has a certain level of expertise that you can talk to for professional, and sometimes personal, growth and development. That type of relationship is vital, especially through the journey of your professional career. A mentor can help you navigate the new working world by helping you understand company politics, gain an insight into how to best complete a project or task, and see the bigger picture of your job and where you can go with it. Finding a mentor is a challenge, but the rewards a mentorship offers makes the search a worthwhile ordeal.

I’ve personally gone through my fair share of mentors — the good, the bad, and the ugly (personalities). Having done so, I know what to look for in someone who can guide me through the intimidating professional world with my best interests in mind, and have found one at my current job.

So what should you look for when trying to find a worthwhile mentor?

1. This person genuinely cares about your professional and personal goals

More often than not, finding someone who genuinely cares about you in the professional world can be a serious uphill battle. With everyone competing to get credit for their own ideas and recognition from their bosses, coming across someone who has the time or desire to prioritize your success is tough. If you can find someone in your company or industry who shows a real appreciation for you and your goals, you may have yourself a promising sign of a mentor. At the end of the day, you want that person to not only see the relationship as a chance for them to bestow their wisdom, but to care where that wisdom takes you as you battle the professional landscape.

2. They’ve been in your footsteps before

A mentor is someone who has more knowledge or expertise than the mentee, initiating the purpose of the relationship. This means that your mentor has likely been where you are in recent times and can provide valuable guidance for your future. You get the opportunity to learn from their past mistakes and successes and can in turn use that insight to propel your own career.

3. A give-and-take relationship exists

Like any relationship, a mentorship should be two-sided and, in an ideal world, free from selfishness. When you think you’ve found the right mentor, initiating this give-and-take relationship is key. While your mentor will hopefully provide you with invaluable guidance and knowledge, you should also take into consideration what you can offer him or her. Write them a thank you card after a few months of their help. Learn their daily tasks and try to take them on to make their professional life a little easier. Showing them that you appreciate their effort is important and will ensure the longevity and quality of the relationship once you’ve found one.

So look for someone who fits this criteria to ensure you’ll get the most out of the mentorship. Having the right mentor is incredibly important and can be vital in guiding you through your career successfully. Think of him or her as your sidekick in combating the treacherous professional world — the two of you using one another as a support system to solve large, complex problems or simple, everyday tasks.

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