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How do I know when I've found a potential career mentor?

When is safe to approach someone in a higher position than you to form a connection? How can you ensure you're not stepping out of line in doing so? #career #mentor #connections

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Nicole’s Answer

Hi Angela Y. I see that you posted this question a little while ago so I hope my answer to you (or others who may read this response) is still helpful.

Love, love, love this question. In addition to the awesome answers already provided, I share a bit more with you. I remember clearly, the first time I decided to reach out to an individual, who was way more senior to me, to ask if they would be willing to be a mentor to me. For sure I was nervous...but...I was prepared, and the person who eventually did become a mentor to me, could see that I was prepared. So that was my first lesson...when a person that you seek to have as a mentor sees that you are committed to getting better and that you are hoping for them to help you in that growth, it is true that oftentimes they are more than willing to help.

In my meetings/interactions with my mentor, I aimed to continue that pattern of being prepared...my questions AND my follow up for whatever guidance or suggestions were given to me in prior discussions. I offer too, that just like any other communication exchange, you can tell pretty quickly when someone you hope to be your mentor is committed to your growth. When/if they give you the time to talk is the first sign. When/if they ask you things like "hey, remember that thing we talked about? how did that work out? and what did you do next?"...those types of what I consider to be "lean in" questions can be a great sign of mentor engagement.

Finally, when you reach a milestone in your career path, often times your mentor will be at least as thrilled as you when you share your progress. The individual who I chose, who at first I was nervous about, ended up being my mentor for approximately 10 years and even into their retirement, I still seek their input and guidance. I wish you the very best in this search and I hope that you find working with a career mentor a truly enriching experience.
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Ken’s Answer

The process starts with getting to know yourself better to determine a suitable career path and then continues through networking with people working in that career field and becoming acquainted with professional associations to which people in you career area of interest belong. It is through this professional association networking that people (especially students) locate professional mentors to assist them along their education/career journey. Another way would be to work with your school academic adviser or counseling staff in your school or college to determine who might be an appropriate mentor to assist you along your journey.


Getting to know yourself and how your personality traits relate to people involved in various career opportunities is very important in your decision making process. During my many years in Human Resources and College Recruiting, I ran across too many students who had skipped this very important step and ended up in a job situation which for which they were not well suited. Selecting a career area is like buying a pair of shoes. First you have to be properly fitted for the correct size, and then you need to try on and walk in the various shoe options to determine which is fits the best and is most comfortable for you to wear. Following are some important steps which I developed during my career which have been helpful to many .



Ken recommends the following next steps:

The first step is to take an interest and aptitude test and have it interpreted by your school counselor to see if you share the personality traits necessary to enter the field. You might want to do this again upon entry into college, as the interpretation might differ slightly due to the course offering of the school. However, do not wait until entering college, as the information from the test will help to determine the courses that you take in high school. Too many students, due to poor planning, end up paying for courses in college which they could have taken for free in high school.
Next, when you have the results of the testing, talk to the person at your high school and college who tracks and works with graduates to arrange to talk to, visit, and possibly shadow people doing what you think that you might want to do, so that you can get know what they are doing and how they got there. Here are some tips: ## http://www.wikihow.com/Network ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/nonawkward-ways-to-start-and-end-networking-conversations ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-questions-to-ask-your-network-besides-can-you-get-me-a-job?ref=carousel-slide-1 ##
Locate and attend meetings of professional associations to which people who are doing what you think that you want to do belong, so that you can get their advice. These associations may offer or know of intern, coop, shadowing, and scholarship opportunities. These associations are the means whereby the professionals keep abreast of their career area following college and advance in their career. You can locate them by asking your school academic advisor, favorite teachers, and the reference librarian at your local library. Here are some tips: ## https://www.careeronestop.org/BusinessCenter/Toolkit/find-professional-associations.aspx?&frd=true ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/9-tips-for-navigating-your-first-networking-event ##
It is very important to express your appreciation to those who help you along the way to be able to continue to receive helpful information and to create important networking contacts along the way. Here are some good tips: ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-informational-interview-thank-you-note-smart-people-know-to-send?ref=recently-published-2 ## ## https://www.themuse.com/advice/3-tips-for-writing-a-thank-you-note-thatll-make-you-look-like-the-best-candidate-alive?bsft_eid=7e230cba-a92f-4ec7-8ca3-2f50c8fc9c3c&bsft_pid=d08b95c2-bc8f-4eae-8618-d0826841a284&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_20171020&utm_source=blueshift&utm_content=daily_20171020&bsft_clkid=edfe52ae-9e40-4d90-8e6a-e0bb76116570&bsft_uid=54658fa1-0090-41fd-b88c-20a86c513a6c&bsft_mid=214115cb-cca2-4aec-aa86-92a31d371185&bsft_pp=2 ##
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Javier’s Answer

Hi Angela,


Excellent question! I am going to attempt to answer it through the lens of my experience as a former university recruiter for Ford Motor Company, so if there is something that is not clear please let me know!


In the three years I worked as a university recruiter, I encountered so many students who had similar hesitations about asking questions to professionals (from Ford or other companies), so the first thing to know is that you are not the only one that thinks/feels this way =)


Secondly, you will find out that most of the time people are more than willing to help answer your questions and provide tips/advice on career choices, academics, etc. So, the best way to know if you've found a potential career mentor is to ask questions! Below are some tips for you:


  1. Be polite: thank the person you're reaching out to upfront for taking the time to communicate with you. This will go a long way in starting off on the right foot.
  2. Be clear and specific: do the best you can to ask questions that are aimed at a specific topic. The broader and more general your question is, the harder it will likely be to answer.
  3. Follow up: make sure that you report back with progress, achievements, etc. to keep the communication going. This was often a shortcoming with many students I spoke to; they asked for advice, I provided some, and then didn't hear from them again.

If you run into a situation where somebody is not willing and/or able to help, thank them for their time and reach out to somebody else! I am confident that you will have no shortage of people that are eager to help in whatever way they can.


Hope that helps!

Thank you comment icon Javier, your advice is on target! Sheila Jordan
Thank you comment icon Great suggestions and tips. Requesting say 30mins of someones time to start that conversation, and coming up with 4/5 thought-out and specific questions is the best way to get started. Charlotte Dean
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