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In this blog post, I highlighted the importance of mentorship in your career and professional life. Mentors provide much needed support and direction as you navigate within your network and work to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. The question that always comes up after someone determines that a mentor is the vital key that they are missing is, “How do I find a mentor?” Finding a mentor is not as simple as walking up to someone at a networking event, and asking “Will you be my mentor?”. Mentoring is about a relationship; it needs to be organic and should grow out of real interactions between people who are already familiar with one another. Here are a few bits of advice to keep in mind when you’re looking for a mentor:
Make Yourself Mentor-Ready
You will not be able to build a successful relationship with a mentor if you don’t know what you want. You need to take the time to reflect, and create a working outline of your needs and professional goals. This doesn’t have to be a list of things that are set in stone, but you do need to know what you want, so you can seek out a mentor who aligns with your aspirations.
Relatedly, work towards being someone that anyone would want to mentor. Do work to establish yourself as much as possible within your field; know what your strengths and your weaknesses are. Work to associate with the right people, create meaningful work, and be a professional that other professionals want to work with.
As I mentioned earlier, mentoring is born of real relationships. Very few people are willing to invest their time in a stranger. Work to build meaningful connections, both online and in person, and get involved with others through as many different avenues as possible.
- Get active on twitter, and follow people that you admire. Look at who they interact with, and follow them too. Read the content that they produce, and maybe even reach out and comment on something they’ve written. Do the same on Linkedin.
- Go to networking events and make real connections with people. Websites like meetup.com have endless options of meetup groups and events where people are eager to make connections and build up their network as well. Find conferences where people you admire are speaking and don’t be afraid to walk up and start a conversation.
In the beginning, avoid the “I need a mentor”conversation. Instead, work on getting to know these various individuals you’ve brought into your life. Exchange emails, meetup for coffees and lunches, and ask questions. Feel out these interactions, and if over time you think that someone may be a good fit, then ask them if they would be interested in being your mentor. Many believe that the official question will be unnecessary, because the organic relationship that you’re working on will naturally shift into a mentor-mentee relationship on its own.
Every professional should be constantly working to develop their networking skill set. The word “networking” is thrown around in almost every career-oriented workshop or classroom, but many people do not fully understand the benefits of proper networking, and struggle with determining exactly what networking entails. In my line of work, I’m constantly seeing well-networked individuals flourish, because a great network provides great opportunities. These are a few networking tips to follow whether you’re just getting into the game, or a seasoned networking vet looking for a refresher.
Practice Makes Perfect
Networking can feel very overwhelming and intimidating to some people. If you’re an introvert, the best thing to do is to practice. Find a few networking groups and start making contacts. Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Business Network International, says that you should create four different networks of people:
- Casual Contacts: The individuals you meet by attending mixers and general networking events.
- Strong Contacts: Business professionals you interact with at industry specific events and groups. (Depending on your industry, you may be able to find groups that gather frequently with the specific goal of creating strong business relationships.)
- Knowledge Contacts: People you meet through professional associations.
- Online Contacts: Casual contacts that you connect with online. (We are in the age of the internet, and your online presence can be the key to your next big career move. Linkedin is currently the most effective online networking site available. )
Network Before You Need To
If you’re just getting out of school, be sure to keep in contact with professors, classmates, family friends, etc so that you have a network of people to turn to during the first job hunt. If you’re thinking about changing jobs or industries, start attending events and bulking up your network before you feel like you MUST leave. The one thing that “seasoned” (trustworthy) networkers shy away from are individuals who feel desperate. Try to network with people when you don’t have an alternative motive, so that your interactions come across as genuine.
Maintain Your Network
Remember that your network is made up of people. You have to make sure that you build and maintain relationships with the people you connect with. The last thing that you want to do is be the person that only reaches out when you need something.
One great way to maintain your network is to set up a calendar of birthdays and special occasions. Sending a quick text or email on those days will make you stand out as genuine and engaged. Outside of the special occasions, make sure to send thank you notes, set up coffee dates, or send over articles you think might be of interest.