How Can I Find a Mentor at Work?

Dec 31, 2013
9 Min Read

Four of our workplace experts has weighed in on the topic of finding a mentor at work to give you four points of view. For other editions of our 360° Answers series, please click here.

How to Find a Mentor at Work

Alison Green says:

Having a mentor – someone who can advise you on career decisions, help you navigate tricky situations, and even just suggest ways to succeed at the more mundane aspects of office life – can be invaluable, especially at the earlier stages of your career.

Formal mentoring programs to match you with a mentor are out there, but you don’t need something so formal. In fact, some of the best mentoring relationships develop naturally, without any formal program. Think about the people who you already click with and who are a bit ahead of you on their career paths, and start building more of a relationship. Try asking them questions about themselves and their work – things like “How did you do X?” and “how did you persuade the board to do Y” and “why did you approach project Z that way?”

From there, if the person is amenable, ask for their input on your own career and work life, using specific, targeted questions like “How can I gain credibility on X?” or “How can improve the way I’m approaching Y?” Or even, “I’m planning to tackle this project by doing the following – what do you think?”

And of course, once you establish a solid mentoring relationship, be worth the other person’s investment in you. Take their advice seriously, work hard to excel in your job, and let them know how much you appreciate their time and insight.

Alexandra Levit says:

A mentor is a person, usually but not necessarily older, who can advise you on matters relevant to your career and who offers support and direction as you progress in your field. Obviously, having a mentor is a good idea, but he won’t come to you. You have to seek him out and proactively establish the relationship.

Doing this is easier said than done, because the best mentors are typically not your direct supervisors, and you may need to look outside your immediate department.  Observe powerful individuals in your company, networking organizations, and social media outlets and approach someone who possesses a “generosity of spirit,” a natural willingness to go out of his way to help others. Ideally, this person will have already passed through the part of the career path that you are currently on, and will have achieved success by making smart decisions and learning from his experiences. He will be someone you like and admire, and someone whose values you share.

Once you target a potential mentor, how do you ask for his help? First of all, approach your mentor-to-be as you would any other networking contact: by preparing in advance. You should determine what you are looking for and devise a tentative schedule for how often you would like to meet. Make sure your expectations are reasonable, because the potential mentor is unlikely to agree if he thinks he will have to meet with you every week or act as a referee between you and your boss.

When contacting the person, briefly explain why you are seeking his guidance. Compliment him sincerely, and ask if he would be amenable to an in-person meeting. Upon sitting down face to face, reiterate your thanks, and lay out your vision for the relationship. Read the person’s reaction. Hopefully, he will be as enthusiastic as you are, and the two of you can set up a timeline for future meetings.

Anita Bruzzese says:

Finding a mentor often sounds like a really good idea, and it is. But where exactly are these people? In your Christmas stocking? Hiding in the supply closet at work?

No one walks around with a “mentor” tag stuck on his or her shirt, so it can be tricky to figure out who to ask and when.

Here are some ideas:

  • Attend professional conferences or seminars, and look for speakers or panel experts who may have the expertise and experience you seek. You can introduce yourself and follow up with an email to establish a relationship and take it from there.
  • Consider someone you’ve disagreed with in the past. This might sound a bit crazy, but you’re looking for someone who is going to help you see other points of views and knows how you work. So a colleague or former boss – who respectfully offered other opinions – may be open to helping you explore other options and challenging you to see other views.
  • Look for a variety of expertise. People often avoid being tapped as a mentor because they don’t have the time to become involved  in a long-term relationship that doesn’t really offer them anything beyond feeling good for helping someone else. So, look for “unofficial” mentors through expert podcasts, webinars, books, seminars and classes.

Eva Rykrsmith says:

You can meet a potential mentor almost anywhere but the tricky part is developing the acquaintance relationship into a mentorship. To do that, please understand that mentoring is a two-way relationship. With that in mind, one of the best ways to begin that type of relationship is to demonstrate that you will be a good and worthwhile mentee.

In my past work as learning director of an online mentoring and coaching consulting service, I noticed the following characteristics of mentees who were members of a highly engaged and active mentoring relationship:

  • willing to be vulnerable about weaknesses, opportunities, mistakes, failures, and shortcomings
  • open and up front about why they are in need of a mentor and conveying how the mentor can be most helpful; being appreciative
  • willing to make changes, yet also confident enough in their own abilities to make the mentor feel that the mentoring endeavor will ultimately lead to a success
  • open-minded about learning from the mentor's life experiences; mentoring is not as targeted as coaching, so the mentee has to have both the patience and the critical thinking ability to connect the dots to learn from the interactions

Being a mentor takes investing much time and resources in someone else. Finding a mentor requires convincing the mentor that this type of relationship with you is well worth their time.

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