How to Select a Mentor

Selecting a mentor

In organizations with formal mentoring programs, the young, green employee is given a mentor soon after he hires on at the company.  The company either feels they know best who should teach each young person or they assume it doesn’t matter and match people up based on availability.

At a company where I once worked, they had what was called a “counseling” program.  Counselors were assigned to employees that were one level below them in rank.  Every counselor had their own counselor that was a grade above.  The counseling program was designed to provide more of an administrative service than mentoring.

This company had a matrix reporting structure. An employee could work on multiple projects throughout a year, reporting to a different person on each project. The person they reported to would provide feedback to the person’s counselor, who would consolidate the information for an end of year performance evaluation.

Although this company didn’t have a formal mentoring program, they strongly recommended people seek out a mentor. Just as your manager could turn out to be your mentor at another company, you could develop a relationship with your counselor at this company and make him or her your mentor.  It just wasn’t required.

Whether your company assigns you a mentor, suggests you seek out a mentor, or doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, it is your responsibility to seek out and select your own mentors.

See related post: How to Be Mentored

Use the following guidelines to find the right mentors for you.

  • Mentoring doesn’t have to be a monogamous relationship. You may have noticed that I used mentors in the plural form.  It’s good to have multiple mentors to get multiple points of view.  One mentor may suggest that you take your career down a certain route, while another may suggest an alternate path. Consider the arguments for and against from both mentors to determine the right career direction for you.
  • Don’t assign the title. Mentor should be more of a verb than a noun. I’ve found labeling someone as your mentor can sometimes get in the way. The mentor may feel they don’t have the time to be a “full-time mentor”. The mentee can establish expectations that can’t be met by the mentor. Instead, think of the mentor as an advisor, someone you can go to for advice once in a while.  If they think of something they think will be helpful to you, they can provide advice on an ad hoc basis. This takes away the pressure to be an official mentor and reduces the expectation from the mentee.
  • Find someone who has skills that you would like to develop. Determine how you would like to grow. If you are a technical person in consulting, perhaps you would like to learn more about developing trusting relationships with clients. Seeking people with the same skills as you will provide limited growth.
    Keep in mind that people with complementary skills may be younger than you. If you have several years of experience, but find that you have become out of date with certain technologies, younger co-workers with more recent training may be your best option.
  • Identify someone who will listen as well as teach. Being a mentor can go to one’s head.  People like being an expert. Being asked to mentor someone may cause them to speak more than they listen.  They might begin providing unsolicited advice on topics they think you should know, not considering what type of information you are interested in learning. If your mentor doesn’t show an interest in listening to your needs as a mentee, you might want to seek advice elsewhere.

Related post: How to care for your mentor

Selecting a mentor is an important aspect of establishing learning and growth in your career.  It is critical to select people who will have your best interests in mind and will help you grow in the direction that you want to go.

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your questions and comments.

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