5 Tips for Finding and Keeping a Good Mentor
If you’re building any kind of business, you are going to need advice at some point down the line. For busy professionals, whether they're experienced entrepreneurs or those about to embark on making their first business idea a reality, a guiding hand and some words of wisdom from a mentor are gifts worth their weight in gold.
Watching LinkedIn’s “The Mentor Who Shaped Me” series unfold, I’ve been thinking about the people who have shaped my career in digital marketing. I want to share four ways some of my digital industry peers and I have found for finding and keeping a great mentor relationship thriving.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask.
If you've identified someone you think would be a perfect mentor, don’t worry about whether he or she is too busy. There’s no point in recognizing the need for you to grow and be guided professionally if you don’t shoot for a mentor who is successful and probably stretched for time. Have the confidence that the reply will "yes," and get your pitch together. What have you got to lose?
2. Ask right, and be mentor-worthy.
“Anyone giving up their time to help you with your professional life and career is going to want to make sure their time is being spent wisely,” says digital strategist Lisa Williams. If you don’t know the person you're targeting, explain who you are and what you are about.
Tell this person why you've identified him or her and be thorough about what you want from the relationship and what you envision as the time commitment. Most busy people like order, so being explicit with timing and desired outcomes is more likely to elicit a positive response than a woolly request for a coffee and a chat.
Also: Ask questions. Lots of questions.
3. Choose someone with a different perspective.
“You won’t learn or grow much unless you face your flaws and ignorance of some of the world around you,” suggests Cedric Chambaz, a marketing manager at Bing Ads. So, try to find a mentor who will challenge your thinking and show you there might be a different way to approach a problem, or an additional potential one you never knew existed.
Having empathy with others is a huge part of being successful in your career, so even if you don’t agree with someone on any given subject, you'll find that at least understanding another’s point of view will greatly help your personal brand and also your decision-making process.
4. Seek out more than one.
In my book Pioneers of Digital, Carolyn Everson -- global head of marketing solutions at Facebook -- recommends you take on a “board of advisors” to help with multiple aspects of your career. No one person will have all the answers, so choose a number of different mentors with different backgrounds and experiences to shape your goals and outcomes in a more wholesome way.
5. Try to reciprocate.
A mentor/mentee relationship should never just be a one-way affair. Try to make it useful for your mentor by asking what he or she might like in return. Many will say that giving of their time is a way to give back and help to shape someaone’s future. But never assume. It’s a relationship, so there must be something you can do in return to make the union more fruitful and a "career positive" for you.
Having a mentor early on in my career was very valuable as I sought to define in what direction and how far I wanted to go. For some people, a formal process of seeking out a mentor is the best way to go, but as creative director Joy Archer says, “One significant thing about mentor relationships is that the best ones seem to grow organically, rather than being an ‘arranged marriage.’”
The point is: Take a look around you right now at some of your peers and colleagues. Some of them might be acting as your mentors already.
Mel Carson is founder of Delightful Communications, a Seattle-based social-media-strategy, digital-PR and personal-branding consulting firm. He is co-author of Pioneers of Digital and speaks about digital marketing and communications at conferences globally. He spent seven years at Microsoft as its digital-marketing evangelist.