I previously wrote about the importance of finding a champion in your career, which remains critical. However, I’d like to emphasize that a champion and a mentor are not synonymous. Sometimes they end up being the same person, but many times, they are not.
The biggest differentiating factor between a mentor and a champion is the expectation of confidentiality. You want your champion to talk about you behind closed doors, to share what you are thinking, where you want to go in your career, and what you are working on. A mentor, however, is like a professional best friend – someone you can confide in, who will be a sounding board, and who will guide you through (rather than dictate) your career.
So what is the magic to finding a mentor? Surprise – there isn’t any! However, that doesn’t mean that you should approach the process haphazardly. I challenge you to find your professional best friend, or mentor, the same way you have found your “real-life” best friends.
Here are a few things I have considered throughout my life and career as I have searched for my own mentor:
- Do I want to be associated with this person? My mom always said you are known by the company you keep. That stands true for your mentor. Are they well respected in their field of expertise? Do they surround themselves with other well respected individuals?
- Do I trust they will be constructively honest with me? Like with a good friend, a good mentor will shoot it to you straight but won’t intentionally hurt your feelings in the process. They should have your best interests in mind at all times.
- Will they make time for me? As in any relationship, a mentoring relationship is only effective if your mentor puts in the time to make it work. Don’t fall into the trap of picking a mentor who is already overloaded and expect to get the attention from them that you desire.
- Will they hold my confidence? As I mentioned, this is the biggest difference between a mentor and a champion. You have to be comfortable entrusting your mentor with what is really on your mind and what you really want to achieve.
- Will we enjoy spending time together? This may seem too simple, but it is important for you and your mentor to like each other and enjoy each other’s company. Just like in a friendship, you have to want to spend time together in order for the relationship to work.
Whatever your criteria may be for choosing a mentor, the most important thing to keep in mind is to do so thoughtfully. Just like champions, mentors are critical to your success. Don’t allow fate to determine who that person is.
Bobbi Kelly is Kreischer Miller's Director of Human Resources. She has over 12 years of experience providing human resources advisory services to a variety of businesses, including privately-held companies and partnerships. Bobbi joined Kreischer Miller in 2014. Contact Bobbi at Email.
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