How to find a mentor: a useful step-by-step guide

Updated 9 March 2023

Having a mentor in your professional life can be very beneficial for developing your skills and career. Mentors can offer you specific insights and guidance that would otherwise take many years to find on your own. Finding the right sort of person and asking them to be your mentor can be a challenge, but it is certainly possible and worth the time. In this article, we explain how to find a mentor, the importance of having one and how to approach people for this purpose.

Related: Why You Should be Looking for a Mentor

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How to find a mentor

You may be wondering how to find a mentor when looking for professional improvement opportunities. The challenge is finding a mentor who is willing and suits your unique needs and circumstances. There are different ways of achieving this. Follow the steps listed below and learn how to find a mentor:

1. Consider whether you need a mentor

Being mentored is a great idea for some, but others may prefer to explore and discover on their own. Think about your own needs and attributes. Ask yourself: are you the sort of person who flourishes under guidance or do you prefer to find your own way of doing things? If you believe yourself to be in the latter category, finding a mentor may not be necessary. You may still benefit from seeking advice from experienced professionals, but the active coaching may be unsuitable.

2. Think about the sort of mentor you need

Before you go searching, you ought to consider what you're looking for in a mentor. This depends greatly on your current situation and where you are in your career. You can do this by outlining your short-term and long-term goals.

Once you've identified these goals, think about what sort of mentor could help you achieve them. Ask yourself: do you require expertise regarding how your industry works, or do you need to know which skills to develop? You may also be looking for professional contacts and recommendations. Knowing your own specific needs can help you to identify the ideal mentor.

Related: Top Tips for Successful Career Progression

3. Make a list of people to ask

Knowing what sort of mentor you're looking for can help you identify individuals who would be a good fit. Think about the people who are many years ahead of you in terms of their career progress. These could be people that you look up to or wish to emulate. They might even occupy the position you aspire to. It's usually best if you already have some relationship with these individuals, rather than asking someone you've never met before. If you know someone else who has a mentor, you can ask them for suggestions.

4. Start with your own network

Knowing where to look for a mentor is one of the most important challenges. You can use your personal network for this, including your extended family, friends and professional contacts. This can also extend to local non-profit organisations, business leaders, volunteer groups or professional associations. Take the time to consider your personal network, as you may find that you know more people than you think.

5. Prepare your proposal

To be a good candidate for mentorship, you must demonstrate that you have significant potential. The people you approach as potential mentors need to believe that you're worth investing the time in, that you're receptive to feedback and guidance, that you're serious and that you're going to be appreciative and grateful for their help. In this sense, approaching a mentor is very similar to a job application and interview.

Take the time to prepare a pitch to your potential mentor. This is quite similar to a cover letter and needs to persuade them that you have potential. Write your pitch down and review it. You can also ask a friend or family member to look at it and give you their feedback. However, a pitch to a potential mentor needs to be much more personal than a cover letter or job application. You must explain why you've chosen them specifically, in addition to why they'd want to mentor you.

How to approach a potential mentor

Once you've identified someone as a potential mentor, the next challenge is to approach them in an appropriate way. They might be investing a lot of time in you and your career, so it's worth taking the time to be considerate and professional. To approach a potential mentor, follow the steps below:

1. Ask them for a meeting

It's almost always better to meet the person face-to-face. Reach out to them by email or phone and ask if they'd be willing to meet you in person. You ought to mention that you're looking for a professional mentor and that you believe you're a promising candidate for this. This allows them to think about whether they're willing to mentor someone before meeting you.

Related: 4 Types of Communication (With Examples)

2. Explain why you're looking for a mentor

It's very important that your potential mentor clearly understands your needs and priorities. Explain to them what you hope to gain from being mentored and what your aspirations are. This allows them to determine whether they can provide you with the guidance that you're looking for.

3. Explain why you chose them

Once you've communicated your specific needs, you can explain why you chose them in particular. You ought to already have a good idea of who this person is, their background and some information on their achievements. Try to show that you've taken the time to learn about their life and background. You can then explain why their unique experiences would be valuable to you if they agreed to be your mentor.

At this point, you're probably going to start seeing how they react. If they appear uncomfortable with the idea or uninterested, you can thank them for their time and keep looking. You can also ask them if they could suggest someone who'd be willing to mentor someone like you. It's important that your mentor is genuinely interested in helping you, so remember that you may need to speak to more than one person.

What is a mentor?

In a professional capacity, a mentor is an individual who offers you guidance on your career progression. They do this by offering you relevant advice, listening to your concerns and ambitions, helping you acquire new skills and building trust over time. As individuals, mentors must be engaged, experienced, empathetic and reliable. They tend to have excellent active listening and communication skills and can impart valuable information clearly and succinctly.

To offer you effective guidance, mentors also need to be individuals who have already succeeded in their fields. Their advice and assistance can be especially useful if you're starting your career or have recently shifted to a new one. They can help you develop your skills and grow as you explore a new career. Typically, the more experienced you become, the less dependent you're going to be on your mentor. But once you've got experience and have started to succeed, you might even consider becoming a mentor yourself. Some of the benefits mentors can provide include:

  • They can share their professional contacts and connections for future opportunities

  • Mentors can provide valuable letters of recommendation

  • Feedback and constructive criticism on your skills and progression

  • They can identify new opportunities and resources for you

  • Support during job applications, such as interview practice

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Referee: Email Examples

Traits to look for in a mentor

Identifying who would be a good mentor is an important part of the process. In addition to having the experiences and achievements you aspire to, a mentor must also be capable of guiding someone else. Below is a list of important traits to look for when considering a potential mentor:

  • Relevant experience. The individual's experience must be relevant to your own career aspirations, as opposed to simply being noteworthy or admirable in a general sense.

  • Previous mentoring experience. An individual who has mentored others before you is much more likely to know what a mentee needs.

  • Patience. At the beginning of your career, you're probably going to have many questions and require regular guidance. A good mentor has to have both the time and patience to do this.

  • Good listener. A good mentor listens to the needs and aspirations of their mentee and adapts their guidance accordingly.

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