On Mentors

Last month, LinkedIn told me it was time to thank my mentors. I took a moment to give a little shoutout to the two ladies who have pushed and inspired me over the last three years. I’ve since gained two new supervisors who have both shown such a genuine interest in me and my success. They give me honest feedback, they challenge my limits, they teach me, they advocate for me. They are my champions.

I talked briefly about career mentors and the importance of finding them in my post about What I Wish I’d Done in College, but I can’t express enough how critical mentors have been in my career so far, and I encourage everyone to find at least one. Here are a few things to know about mentors, how to get them, and how to keep them:

How to Get a Mentor

The best and easiest place to find a mentor is at the company you work for or an organization you’re involved in, but good mentors can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s someone you heard at a conference, someone you stumbled upon on LinkedIn, someone you met on the metro. Be open and choose wisely.

Do your research. Once you’ve pinpointed the person you want to be your mentor, observe them, take good notes, and do your research. Read their blog/ebook/code, listen to their talks, know their background, read press about them. Know exactly why they would be your ideal mentor.

Then, just ask. Seriously. Just ask. Start by asking them to look over your resume or if they’d let you pick their brain over coffee. Let them know that you would value their advice and expertise. You’d be surprised how people react when they feel they are valued or looked up to, and how much they actually want to share their knowledge.

Show up. If long-term mentorships are what you’re looking for (which you should be), then it’s important to prove that you’re a wise investment. Ask good questions, know your goals, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, be open and adaptable. Show that you are ambitious and driven and eager to learn.

How to Keep a Mentor

Provide value. Just like any good relationship, mentorship should be a two way street. Your mentor is going to put in a lot of time and effort to see you succeed, so make sure you do what you can to provide value to them in return. Offer to help them with events or projects, introduce them to new people, think of them when interesting opportunities arise, be their champion as they are yours. 

Take their advice. Even if you think you disagree, at least test it. If you’ve picked a good mentor, chances are the advice they’re giving you comes from experience and it’s important to keep that in mind. Never be combative or dismissive of the input from your mentor. Take it, test it, shape it, report back.

Talk often, outside of just when you need something. You want this relationship to be friendly while still remaining professional, so there will be boundaries (which will flex depending on your rapport), but you should be in contact with your mentor every 1-2 weeks. My recommendation: each week, set a few skill-building goals you want to hit that week, talk about your plans to achieve them, and then recap your progress and get feedback the following week. 

Protip: Any time you start working in a new place, especially if you’re interning, create a list of personal goals you want to accomplish by the end of your term. Share these goals with your team and supervisors so you can ask for or be assigned to tasks that help you reach those goals. When you interview, ask your interviewer about the specific skills you will learn and make sure those align with your overall goals.

Once you’ve mastered this delicate art and built a strong, valuable relationship with your first mentor, feel free to search for a second or third over time—all equally important and appreciated, each one providing something new and unique that will be imperative to your success. Consider this your own personal advisory board. When appropriate or necessary, even meet with them as a group; this allows them network amongst themselves, play off of each other’s perspectives, and collaborate on how to help you get where you’re going. Everybody wins.

Lastly, when you feel firm in your career path, consider taking on a mentee of your own. You’ll be able to talk about all the advice you’ve been given which means you’ll learn it better and you’ll be “paying it forward” which means opening up a greater opportunity for someone else. 

No matter what field or stage of the game you’re in, I highly recommend finding a mentor to really help you cruise along your career path. And if you already have one, take a moment today to thank them for all that they do.