What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone, typically a couple levels senior to you, that gives you advice, makes introductions and generally helps smooth you path in your job. Good mentors will invest effort and call in brownie points to help you. The most important job of a mentor is help you think through difficult situations either in dealing with your supervisors, the company’s bureaucracy or other impediments such as company politics. They take the time to talk to you, listen and offer advice based on their much longer experience in the company or in their specific career.
How can you tell if someone will be a good mentor for you?
There are a couple good indicators that will help you identify a good mentor:
- Personal chemistry: First off, you actually need to like each other – share the same sense of humor, passion for non-work topics, e.g. sports and plain get along well with each other
- Good samaritan: Next, the person should be someone who actively invests in others and is interested in more than just themselves; most people fall into this category, but once in a while you will come across egocentrics that you should best avoid
- Not your boss: Avoid someone you report to, as you will not be able to have the honest and open discussion you need
- Willing to take time: Very important is that the person is willing and able to take the time to talk to you. A rock star mentor who is never around because she has to travel to Tokyo half the time is not useful. Nor is someone who is ruthless about maximizing the utility of every last second, and would never take the time for the “fire-side chats” that you are looking for
- Not too far up the ladder: Clearly you would love it if the CEO of your company became your mentor. However, unless you you are very high up in the organization yourself, that is a bad idea: folks who are too far ahead of you – I would say more than 2 levels up from you – a.) don’t have the time, but more importantly b.) are out of touch with the problems you face
- Actually know what they are talking about: Also very important is that your mentor is actually good at what they do. Don’t ask the village idiot for advice, ask someone who knows much more than you
- Respected within the organization: Finally, your mentor should be well respected. That means that they have plenty leverage with the organization, and people listen if and when your mentor speaks up on your behalf
How can you get someone to be your mentor?
Getting someone to be your mentor isn’t difficult. Often you can establish a mentor relationship without ever using that word in a conversation. Just make a habit of taking some time to talk to the person, especially asking them for advice. Everyone loves being asked for advice and then getting a positive reaction in return – makes people feel self-important, appreciated and happy. Start off by asking for non-controversial advice, easy stuff that you have figured out the answer to but where you would like to have a 2nd opinion. Then slowly work your way to meatier discussions over time. But don’t forget to also have simple social conversations, best on topics your mentor enjoys (”Did you see the game last night?”). Go to coffee and lunch with your mentor – make it a habit.
Reciprocate – become a mentor yourself
When the time comes, you should be a mentor as well. Find a worthy mentoree and invest effort into them.