How to Choose the Right Mentor for Your Life

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

What if you could have a guide on what to do next in your career? A free resource to help you when you are stuck or in a tight spot. You might be wondering how to interpret changes at your company. Perhaps you've watched your company's leadership team turnover more times than you flip a pancake and you aren't sure what it means for your career or your next promotion. Or you could be struggling to clarify what you bring to the table before you negotiate your next opportunity.


At every stage of your career, having a mentor is a competitive advantage. Investing in building relationships can make it easier to succeed in work or in life. Knowing how to choose the right mentor can save you time and ensure you are asking the right person, your critical questions. In my career, I've shifted industries from finance to food to manufacturing to technology, at each juncture my mentors helped me learn the unwritten rules and avoid the common pitfalls to success. My mentor, Don Thompson, founder and CEO of Cleveland Avenue even wrote the foreword for my book, Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Moving Your Career Forward to demonstrate his commitment and the importance of mentorship.


Here are some essential qualities to look for in a mentor and a step-by-step guide to finding the right one for you.


The A, B, C, D, Qualities to Look for in a Mentor:


1. Aligned Values. Look for someone you consider to be a good role model. Do your research and take the time to understand how they make decisions. Do you agree with their choices, and will you respect their advice? They don't have to be the CEO or rich and famous. Mentors can help in any area, including family issues or investment guidance. Consider fellow alums, members of your sorority or professional organizations who you may already know, respect, and admire.


2. Business Relevant. What do you want to do next? We all dread the question about where you see yourself in five years, but your mentor should expect your journey to be related to their field of expertise. Review your performance and talk to your manager about where you need to focus your attention to make an impact on your professional reputation. Advancing your career may be the first thing that comes to mind, but mentors can help you develop your confidence in performing well in your current role by sharing from their experience. Look for someone with the appropriate background, expertise, and contacts to advise you.


3. Complementary Experience. Have you received feedback about your opportunities for growth or areas of improvement? A mentor can help you stretch yourself and find assignments that will allow you to demonstrate your growth. For example, if you're concerned about your finance skills, you may want to investigate people who have roles that include profit and loss responsibilities in your industry. When you are considering the impact of parental leave, taking a leap into entrepreneurship or writing book, find a mentor who's been there, done that.


4. Development Focused. A mentor is a facilitator and a sounding board. Ideally, they'll help you develop your own wisdom and create your own solutions. Making sure that the person guiding you understands their role in teaching you what you need to learn is critical to having a successful mentoring relationship. In Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Moving Your Career Forward, Don Thompson underlines his commitment to helping me navigate at McDonald's Corporation in the foreword.


"As her mentor, I made it a point to explain my actions and why the words were important to building trust and inspiration in a global organization."

- Don Thompson, CEO, and founder of Cleveland Avenue


5. Enough time and energy. Make sure your potential mentor cares about your career and life to create opportunities and is willing to invest in your development. Whether it's inviting you to networking events or adding a standing meeting to review your progress, look for someone with a track record of mentoring in a way that makes sense for you. Do you want to check in via text, or do you prefer a three-hour dinner to maintain your relationship? Depending on the workload of your mentor, think creatively about how you can stay connected.




7 Steps to Finding The Right Mentor For You:


1. Set Your Criteria. While working at McDonald's Corporation, I had the chance to report to Pat Harris, former global chief diversity officer of McDonald's Corporation and legendary leader in inclusion and human resources. We traveled the globe coordinating women's career development courses as part of the award-winning global women's initiative. Across countries and cultures, she taught me how successful leaders saw the impact of making time to invest in their personal development throughout their careers. She walked me step by step through her thought process, and it gave me the confidence I could dream achieve my goals.


Once you know what experience will be helpful, make a list prioritizing what you want to gain from your mentoring experience. Listen for potential mentors who fit your criteria.


2. Check your Network. The right person might be listed in your phone right now. LinkedIn and membership organizations can be great resources for finding accomplished individuals in any industry. Join committees in community-based groups to get working experience with people you admire and want to emulate. Look for formal and informal mentoring programs to get practice to establish, maintain, and evaluate a relationship.


3. Make the Ask. If you feel nervous about asking someone to mentor you, remember to lead with why you appreciate his or her wisdom and skills. If you're approaching a mentor you don't already know personally, ask for an introduction or you can send a letter of introduction summarizing your request and asking for a brief coffee meeting to talk it over. Be clear about your expectations, goals, and track record of success. Answer the question, what's in it for me?


4. Get a referral. There is nothing better than a recommendation. Ask a trusted colleague, classmate, or person you admire for a suggestion on who can help you. Small network? Attend conferences, webinars, and check social media to get to know potential mentors. My college professor, Dr. Rochelle Ford, has been an incredible mentor in the public relations industry. When I first took the leap into entrepreneurship, she invited me to join her for the Arthur W. Page Society, the world's leading professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives and educators. In addition to inviting me to the table, she always recommends additional steps and reminds me when it's time for me to pursue the next level of accreditation to be competitive.


5. Sign a Mentoring Contract. Schedule an initial conversation can clarify if your mentor is really in a position to provide the kind of assistance you need. Start out by talking about your goals with your mentor. Listen for what they would like to accomplish as a result of working with you too. If you decide to work together, you'll want to develop and write down measurable objectives along with an evaluation plan and timetable so you can track your progress.


6. Set Your Communication Expectations. Everyone is busy, make sure you are clear about how often and what you will share. Clarify your mutual expectations about the amount of time you plan to invest in this relationship. If it matters to you, specify your need for in-person meetings in addition to any calls. Will you schedule appointments with your mentor directly or through an assistant? Are email updates acceptable or what will make the time meaningful for both of you? Confirm all the at the beginning so you can both agree on what success looks like and avoid disappointment.


7. Say Thank You. Time is precious, and sound advice is priceless. Don Thompson always says, "give flowers to the living," meaning it's better to show your gratitude now rather than waiting for a loss to honor the gift of time. Even if your mentor works with you, remember to say thank you for their generosity. Be considerate and show them that you appreciate them. Be sure to recognize everyone who helps you in your search for a mentor. You'll likely need your mentor at various times throughout your life, so invest in your relationship.


Life is full of twists and turns, having a seasoned expert on your team is invaluable when you are struggling with a difficult decision, feeling overwhelmed, or lacking a manager. You can do it all, just not by yourself. Make it a goal to build a strong team to support you in making decisions so you can be confident and use your energy wisely to achieve your goals.


While you can't expect anyone to care as much about your life or career as you do, your mentor will help you make better decisions by sharing their perspective on your options.


Don't abuse the privilege by thinking it's one-sided or all about you. A mentor only says yes when they see something in you.


Working with a mentor allows you to learn from their experience and expertise. Be open to learn and share so you and your mentor can grow together. The best mentoring relationships will enable you to discover an idea or career path you would've missed without a guide to uncover a new possibility. Choose your mentors wisely, and you'll be one step closer to getting everything you want in your career and your life.


Was this article helpful? For more exercises like this one, check out my book on success and finding your purpose in life. Getting Unstuck: A Guide to Moving Your Career Forward tells the story of how one woman found the time and energy to overcome the battle for advancement in corporate America.


As an author, speaker, and mom I share the unwritten rules and the advice of my mentors to evolve your dream job into your dream life, taking control of your time and designing a set of values to lead you onward. Subscribe to my mailing list to get articles in your inbox!

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