It takes some courage to venture into the employment world and start building a career or maybe a business. Your education will certainly help, as well as your previous experience. However, to truly shine, you will need a guide to show you the way. Sheryl Sandberg1 says that women who have mentors are more accomplished and have more confidence in the workplace. The same could probably be said for men, too.
Mentorship is important because starting out can be overwhelming and scary. But finding the right mentor doesn’t come so easily. It is not an answer to the yes or no question or luck. Finding a mentor needs hard work, ambition and persistence. Here’s how you can put that to task and find yourself a great mentor.
1. Be Clear about What Help You Need from Your Mentor
Before you go looking, sit down and think hard about what you want and need from your mentor. Ask yourself whether you want help with a current project or someone for the long-run who knows the insides and outs of your field.
Perhaps you are starting a clothing line and you want to put your company and brand on the map. Asking a fellow company can be a nice idea but not the best one. What works for them might not be applicable to your brand, market, and what if your finances can’t support that plan? Checking in with a similar brand but from a different branch could be better. Because of the similarities, they will understand you, you will feel closer to them, and some great ideas might be born out of that collaboration.
With that said, prior to seeking help, know what your end game is. Having some kind of a starting point could lead you in the right direction. Once that is set up, everything else will come into place naturally.
2. Demonstrate Your Potential to Your Mentor
Approaching someone and saying, “Hey, will you be my mentor?” is not the way to go. This is not a store where you can walk in and ask if they have those jeans in size 12. Acquiring a mentor takes work. Instead of going from person to person asking, why don’t you show them what you can do? Demonstrate your potential. Show them your previous projects, or, if you’ve been following their work, why not show them how you would have done it. Your mentor will want to know what you are capable of. Just saying it is not convincing enough.
3. It’s Better to Find Someone You Know to be Your Mentor
Your mentor will not be just any random stranger. It will, and should, be someone you are familiar with. This might mean someone you are working with or an acquaintance. Heck, it might be a person outside of work, or outside of your career field. It can be your neighbour, for all you know. But if that is not the case, if no one on your contact list fits the description, you need to go out and find them. Polish your networking skills and learn how to win someone over.2
4. Contribute Something in Return to Show You’re Not Only a Taker
The relationship you are about to start should be a two-way street. Don’t be selfish and expect not to give anything in return. Actually, by showcasing that you can be beneficial to the potential mentor only increases your chancing of getting one. Not a single person will be willing to work for nothing. Use your skills to help on something they are working on, support them, share your thoughts and opinions. This way they will know that they can count on you and that you are not here just to use their knowledge without giving back.
Careers can be tough to make, but holding your ground and keeping your ambition should get you through the rough patch. Just think of those you admire — they had to start somewhere, too. Accept that you will have bad moments, but don’t let that drag you down. Stand firmly on your feet, keep your head high and have tenacity — just like those mentors. After all, isn’t that what made them?