Mentorship: The Myths and Tips

Mentorship. It seems to be the secret weapon in every striving professional’s arsenal these days. And for good reason! A mentor can assist you in making important decisions, connect you to the right people, and be a sounding board or north star. But how does one go about finding a mentor? Is there an Etsy shop to peruse for the perfect one? And once you set your sights on a prospect, how do you establish a mentorship relationship without feeling like an awkward preteen asking the Jonas Brothers for an autograph?

First of all, so we’re all on the same page, a mentor is someone who guides a less experienced person, building a relationship and offering his or her expertise in a specific area. Good mentors are able to share life experiences and wisdom, as well as technical expertise. They’re essentially the relationship of your cool aunt or uncle combined with the know-how of an admired professional in your field. Think of Yoda with Luke Skywalker (after he evolves from the adorable Baby Yoda, of course!).  

A mentorship is not:

  • A transactional relationship. If you were paying your mentor, he or she would be a coach, not a mentor. A mentorship should be built on mutual trust and respect. Your mentor is investing in you because he or she believes in you and enjoys your company. The relationship should be organic and much more about altruism than transaction!
  • All about you. Yes, your mentor is more experienced than you, but that doesn’t mean you should sit back, soak up all you can, and be on your merry way. There are ways you’ll be able to offer a unique perspective to you mentor. As the saying goes, in teaching you will learn, and in learning you will teach!
  • Therapy. While your mentor can give you great advice on matters other than your career, it’s important not to rely on your mentor to be your shrink!

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Now that we’re clear on what we’re talking about, let’s dive into the murky waters of how to obtain one of these precious mentors. This is the part that people struggle with the most, especially women who have been in the workforce for about five to ten years. This difficulty is in part because of the limited pool of female leadership that seems to be ubiquitous across industries. As women rise in the ranks, there are less and less women to look up to at the top. But that’s a conversation for another blog post. For now, here are some tips for finding your mentor!

  • Who do you admire? Whether it’s a professor from college, a past boss, your friend’s older cousin, or a blogger who doesn’t even know you exist (yet), your mentor should be someone you aspire to be like!
  • Do your research. Once you’ve zeroed in on someone you believe you can have a symbiotic relationship with, get to know all you can about them. Read their thesis, check out their website, stalk their social media (you were gonna do that last one anyway, come on)!
  • Ask questions. It’s a great way to start building a relationship. Ask your mentor prospect to grab coffee, it doesn’t have to be weird! If the person is someone you’ve never met, then go prepared with thoughtful questions about the person’s experiences and let the conversation flow naturally.
  • Check in every now and then and take it upon yourself to initiate the first few meet ups. Once you start building this unspoken mentoring relationship, it’ll be easy for you and your mentor to fall into your roles without having to even formally ask them to be a mentor.

While you may have a great relationship with your boss, think twice before appointing or assuming them to be your mentor. You want to be able to show all your emotions to a mentor and be completely honest with them. If you’re questioning your interest in your current company or career path, you may not want to share that info with your boss…might get a bit sticky! 


January is actually National Mentoring Month! So if you have mentors, show appreciation for them! And if you don’t have mentors, start employing the tips we just chatted about. Lastly, be sure to stay open to opportunities for you to take on a mentee of your own! For a jumpstart, check out Mentor, the National Mentoring Partnership.

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