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How to Find the Right Mentor

If only it were that easy. Here's how to nab the right one and get the most out of the relationship.

Leslie Rapp feels your pain--and she's in the business of solving it. She's director of training and development at Menttium, a provider of corporate mentoring services and research metrics on business mentoring based in Minneapolis. That's right. People pay her to mentor them … on being mentors. We asked for a crash course.

  1. First, think about you. Exactly why do you need a mentor? What do you hope to learn? Then figure out the kind of person who can best inspire you. For example, if you're starting from scratch, look for a mentor who did, too.
  2. Do you actually need a mentor? If you have a specific problem to solve, you may want a consultant. If you're stuck in a rut, a professional coach could be a better choice.
  3. Start with small talk. You meet potential mentors every day, not that they go around introducing themselves that way. Ask them about their work and their life, and see where it leads. Rapp particularly likes to ask how they came to do the work they do: "I never get a straight-line answer, and the story tells me a lot."
  4. Then spell out what you want. Asking "Will you be my mentor?" is a pretty sure way to make potential mentors flee. Instead, say you want to learn more about what they do and that they would be a great resource. Suggest meeting every quarter, or having coffee once a month. Be specific.
  5. The answer may be no, and that's OK. Keep searching, and know that you're a good judge of character: Great mentors don't say yes to things they can't commit to.

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the January 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Will You Be My Mentor?.

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