Finding a Career Mentor

Finding a Career Mentor

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: Over the past five years, I’ve managed to advance in my career based entirely on my skills and ability to learn quickly. Now, I’m at a point where having a mentor has become more important in my career path. How can I find a mentor who will be willing to giving me feedback on my performance and teach me the ropes?

A: If your boss isn’t mentor material, you’ll need to develop opportunities beyond his or her circle of influence. Fortunately, there are many ways to extend your visibility within your company, industry and career field.

I believe there are at least 11 places to look to build relationships, network with others and search to find a mentor that’s right for you. Here’s an overview of those 11 next steps:

  • Work on operations that involve cross-functional teams and require input from multiple areas. Collaborate with colleagues in other parts of the company, win their respect and build relationships. Then if you want to contact a potential mentor somewhere else in the organization or request a transfer eventually, they’ll be eager to help
  • If there’s an ad hoc company task force (i.e., to plan team outings, go green, mentor kids, etc.) volunteer to serve on it. Working together toward a common goal is a great way to meet and make friends with people throughout the company.
  • Find an activity where you can spend time with colleagues. Play on the company’s softball, volleyball, bowling or basketball team. Volunteer for its charitable projects. Or join one of its wellness classes.
  • Attend in-house training programs and make an effort to meet your fellow participants. If possible, determine ahead of time with whom you want to network.
  • Ask acquaintances from other departments out to lunch at least twice a month. Find out what they’re doing and look for common interests.
  • Build a relationship with your manager’s boss. That person has the power to make your career goals a reality. Look for opportunities to present reports or represent your department to him or her whenever possible. But be sure you have your manager’s blessing. Otherwise he may resent your initiative.
  • Talk to HR about your desire to know the company better. Ask them for the names of executives who would be good to meet for an “information interview.” Look for mentors as you go.
  • Join a professional organization. Large companies often have chapters in-house. If not, you’ll probably find one in your city. Volunteer for a committee. Get to know its leadership and cultivate their respect.
  • Go to conferences, workshops and other external activities hosted by organizations allied with your industry or career where potential mentors will tend to congregate.
  • If you uncover an exciting new area, consider taking a course or two to increase your expertise. Along with valuable information, you’ll also meet people who are currently in that field.
  • Serve on a nonprofit board or committee for your homeowners’ association, church, favorite charity or issue, children’s school, political party, etc. Get involved and you’ll meet a lot of new people.

Potential mentors are everywhere. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding someone that you click with and with whom you feel can offer sage advice. And by simply taking the initiative to go after what you want, you may come across someone who can be a mentor in the process. As a bonus, you may find that as you develop exceptional skills in building relationships and networks, you may outgrow the need for one. By expanding your people skills, you help yourself and your colleagues and decrease your dependence on others. Pursuing enlightened self-reliance beats finding a mentor any day, although having both is the ultimate way to go

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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