Finding a mentor can be challenging if you haven’t had one before and don’t know where to start. Mentors are an invaluable resource; they can provide wisdom, offer guidance, and open the door to new opportunities.
So how do you go about finding one?
I’ve been lucky to have multiple mentors in my life, from those who shaped my undergraduate experience and provided me with international opportunities to those currently helping me achieve my career goals. To help you in your mentor relationships, I’ve compiled a list of techniques that I have used to establish connections with the special people I consider my mentors.
1. Find role models, plural
In our careers, as in life, there are many stages. There are so many things to learn as a young professional, which are guaranteed to be very different from the things you will learn when you become a project manager, middle manager, VP, CEO etc.
In every stage you are almost certain to find someone who you can and will look up to. These role models are important. They should be people who you can aspire to be like and from whom you can learn. Now, we say plural because not every mentor is able to teach you everything and multiple role models open the door to more knowledge that you can soak up. A good rule of thumb is aiming to learn one thing from a mentor that they do very, very well.
As you identify these role models, you may ask yourself “who can be a mentor?” Mentors can be any age. My mentors range from my peers who are in their late 20s to inspiring retired individuals. They also span many occupations: former university professors, industry project managers, and family friends. I have received guidance from some whom I did not expect, so remember that mentors come in many forms.
2. Ask for an introduction through your *NETWORK*
If your desired mentor isn’t someone you find yourself serendipitously connected with via working relationship, like a project manager or a boss, the next step is to ask to be connected with them through your network .
Sarah would like to learn more about municipal engineering design and recognizes Lisa as a leader in that discipline at her company. Sarah asks her boss at her performance review (or another opportunistic time) if she can learn more about the topic by working on project X with Lisa.
By asking for an introduction through your network, you are establishing common ground with your potential mentor before you even begin a relationship. This can help break the ice and help you build a relationship going forward.
Which brings us to…
3. Build a relationship with your mentor
Bring something to the table and be prepared to work hard
Working with/for someone is the most mutually beneficial way to build trust and respect. The key here is to remember that trust and respect must be earned. Your potential mentor has goals and deadlines to meet; you can help meet them by providing quality work and showing dedication to their team. So be prepared to work your ass off.
Show interest in them as a person
Working hard for someone you know and respect is a lot easier than working for the sake of getting work done. A little bit of enthusiasm for someone’s personality and interests can go a long way when working together, and you don’t need to know someone’s entire life story to share a common interest with them (like enjoying a nice glass of wine). If you are truly an awkward engineer and introvert at heart, you can start with topics like education, work history, family, etc.
Don’t be a time vampire
A time vampire is someone who feeds off people’s time and energy without giving anything in return. Don’t do that. Instead, strive to bring more to your relationship than you need or take.
Another good reason for having more than one mentor is that one person cannot devote an endless amount of time to you. For this reason, do your homework before you solicit advice and don’t waste your mentor’s time with silly questions. Some things you may want to ask yourself before seeking guidance are:
- “Does this person have personal experience or vested interest that would bring a fresh perspective on this?”
- In the words of of fave podcast hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman of Call Your Girlfriend: “did you do a google?” Was this question already answered on the great invention known as the internet?
- “Is this the best person who I know to ask this question?”
Going in with these preparations behind you can help save precious time and will also help you identify what it really is you need answered from your mentor.
4. Stay in touch with your mentor
Once you establish a genuine relationship with someone, it isn’t hard to keep in touch or pick up where you left off the next time you see them at a meeting or conference, or when you intentionally schedule lunch or dinner with them because you genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
In my relationships, etiquette seems to dictate that the mentee should be the one to follow up with the mentor, not the other way around. I highly recommend taking initiative and scheduling lunch. When you have a relationship built on mutual respect and friendship, asking your mentors for guidance becomes a heck of a lot easier.
Do you have any other questions on mentorship, networking or any other topics you would like us to write about? If so, please comment below!
If you want more about what great mentors can do, stay tuned for my next article. Up next is: what are the qualities of a good mentor and what can they really do for you?
Elaine is an environmental engineer (in training) at a civil engineering consulting firm in the Greater Toronto Area. Her job is mostly figuring out if poop is going to flood your basement and she works with different levels of government to prevent (sh)it from happening. Outside of engineering, Elaine spends her weekends tap dancing and enjoying artsy activities that balance out her engineering life.