Finding a Mentor

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
—Oprah Winfrey

Influence, experience, inspiration and guidance all come to mind when the topic of mentoring arises. Perhaps a teacher, a parent or another influential or inspirational person in your life comes to your mind. We generally have very positive mental associations with mentors in our past.

Nearly all of the household name entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs to Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey cite the influence of their mentors on their success. It is the same with athletes who cite prior coaches and musicians who name their inspirations.

So why is selecting a mentor for your future so hard when mentors are so clearly critical for success?

Perhaps, you don’t know how to intentionally find an appropriate mentor. Perhaps, you’re unclear on how to approach a potential mentor you’ve identified. Perhaps your inner voice is telling you the person you look up to wouldn’t be interested in serving or is too busy to serve as your mentor.

Here are several ways to overcome each of these challenges in finding a mentor.

What Does a Mentor Do?

First, let’s begin with what a mentor does. In my blog, I cover the differing roles of a coach and a mentor. There, I shared, “A mentor may be someone who’s already accomplished what you’d like to accomplish or someone you simply admire. A mentor shares her experience with you and may even introduce you to others who can help you in your career. She may help you gain additional experience or achieve a promotion.”

Generally, a mentor has more experience than you in whatever it is you are seeking mentorship for in your life or career.

Without a formal mentorship program in your company or organization, it can be difficult, even intimidating, to select and approach a mentor—particularly if you’re a woman or minority.

How to Identify the Right Mentor for You

Jenna Kutcher, entrepreneur and host of the Goal Digger podcast, shared an insightful episode titled “The Checklist I Use to Choose My Mentors.” One of the key items on her checklist is shared values. For example, if work/life balance is one of your key values, then selecting a mentor who is known for their relentless drive may not be the right mentor for you.

On the other hand, she highlights the need to select a mentor who has a complementary skill set to your own. So there may be times when you would purposefully select a mentor who demonstrates great focus if you feel you have too many competing priorities.

Another item on Kutcher’s checklist is choosing someone different than you. If you are white, consider a person of color as a mentor. If you are an extrovert, consider working with a more introverted mentor.

You should feel inspired and excited to approach the right mentor. You may feel the butterflies, but you should never feel inferior.

When to Listen to Your Inner Voice When Selecting a Mentor and When Not to Listen

And how will you know if your potential mentor is introverted or extroverted and what skills they excel at? You’ll have to put in the work and get to know them. You can learn much about an individual by looking at their social media activity as mentioned in previous blog posts. You’ll also need to observe their work and approach to interpersonal communication. Chances are if you are legitimately concerned the individual will react harshly or condescendingly to your mentorship request, she is not the right mentor for you.

Oprah Winfrey describes mentorship this way, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” You should feel inspired and excited to approach the right mentor. You may feel the butterflies, but you should never feel inferior.

Another consideration on Kutcher’s checklist is choosing someone who isn’t afraid to share their mistakes and failures. The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from others’ mistakes. Learning from an imperfect mentor will help you immeasurably and calm that part of your inner voice saying that you have to be perfect.

The only thing better than learning from your mistakes is learning from others’ mistakes. Learning from an imperfect mentor will help you immeasurably and calm that part of your inner voice saying that you have to be perfect.

How to Approach a Potential Mentor

So once you’ve identified a potential mentor, observed her skillset, values, and interpersonal style, and confirmed she a good fit for you, how do you approach her with your request?

First, keep in mind that most people will be quite flattered that someone views them as a potential mentor. That thought alone can ease any nervousness you’re experiencing.

Second, it’s always best to make sure it’s a good time to have a conversation. If it’s not, you might just let the individual know that you’d like to talk when it is convenient.

When you do talk, don’t open the conversation immediately with a mentorship request. You might instead ask for a bit of advice on a specific situation related to your overall goal. Or you might comment on some of your observations about their skillsets, successes, or approach to situations. In her post, “The Right Mentor Can Change Your Career. Here’s How to Find One,” Anjuli Sastry, co-founder of NPR’s Women of Color mentorship program, shares, “Do the research about the possible mentor’s work. Then open with what you like about their work. That will show that you have a thoughtful approach.”

After that, you might move on to weightier topics. You might ask to get advice on women in leadership, work/life balance, or being an ally in diversity conversations.

Be sure to pay attention to any signals they may be giving you—positive or negative—and adjust your communication accordingly.

Finally, if your mentor accepts your request, keep your mentorship moving forward. Follow the advice you get. Take the steps your mentors recommend even if you have to adapt actions to suit your style. Demonstrate that you are committed and following through.

Selecting and approaching the right mentor can be daunting. But researching and observing potential mentors can help you select the best fit for you and your goals. Keeping your values in mind and selecting someone who has experienced the level of success you’d like to achieve are also great guideposts for working with a mentor. And most importantly, a mentor should help you feel like your goals are attainable and you are worthy of their mentorship. If you don’t feel inspired after speaking with a potential mentor, keep searching for a more suitable mentor.

Nelida Ruiz is a marketing and business development consultant and coach helping business owners maximize thought leadership with blogs, articles, and social media. For more of her work visit www.nelidaruiz.com