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
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.
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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!