It’s time to identify your mentor—a very important moment in your career journey—and your firm may have a mentoring program in place that is there to support you with sophisticated matching software to help you with this process.
Yes, use the technology to help with the heavy lifting—identifying willing participants with the experience, competencies, and communication styles (not to mention location, if you envision regular face-to-face interaction) that best fit your needs. But don’t let technology overrule your basic instincts for a good match.
Most company mentoring programs will give you the option to self-select your mentor(s)—so leave yourself open to the possibility that you may already know, or know of, your ideal mentor. What characteristics should you look for in a mentor? Perhaps no one will be “perfect,” but strive to find someone who comes awfully close! Your ideal mentor will be someone who:
- Has seen it all: Your mentor doesn’t have to be a lot older than you, but it sure helps if she is a lot more experienced than you. You’re looking for help in seeing the big picture, to “connect the dots” across time, and maybe across industries. This perspective only comes with experience.
- Is a pleasure to be around: Your mentor doesn’t have to be Mr. Personality, but they should have the maturity and self-confidence to enable your time together to be fun, useful, and most importantly, all about your development. Remember that time you went to the ballgame with your uncle, and you guys talked about nothing, and everything at the same time?
- Shares common experiences and relationships with you: A mentor who used to be in sales will have the best advice for a salesperson; a mentor who spent time overseas running a division has the insight to support your upcoming expat assignment.
- Has some influence in your working world: Your mentor may or may not work for your company, but ideally he or she works in your industry—or used to. Your mentor should have the industry credibility to be able to network on your behalf—you know, someone who can “keep an eye out for you” or “put in a good word for you.”
And perhaps most importantly,
- Cares about your success, but is not personally dependent on your success: Here’s a trap to avoid—don’t ask your manager to be your mentor. She’s too close to your day-to-day activities and has too much riding on your success in the immediate future (e.g., quarterly sales targets, current projects) to take a longer-term view. Often, part of what you need in a mentor is some advice on how to more effectively manage your relationship with your boss. In the same way that you never asked your parents for dating advice, you won’t want to ask your manager for career advice! Plus, expanding your network beyond your reporting chain is one of many good goals of an effective mentorship.
Keep these characteristics in mind, and you’re sure to find the right resource to help you meet your career goals!