I have struggled with finding mentors for a long time, partly because the word mentor was so vague, and a bit intimidating. I felt like I had to find my own Mr. Miyagi, and that's putting a lot of pressure on it.
The truth is that having a mentor means different things to different people. And depending on where you are in your career, you will need different types of mentors.
Think of this person who can help you with short-term career goals. Where do you want to be a year from now? Look for someone who's there, and ask for their advice. This type of mentor is someone who can help you with specific projects. Perhaps there's someone you can connect with others in your company, or seek out colleagues at networking events. Ask them specific questions, keep it casual and informal. This is someone you want to be able to contact with an occasional question
The Five Year Mentor
When you're at a mid-point in your career, past an entry-level position with some experience under your belt, it can be easy to get stuck in routines. A mentor at this stage of your career can ensure that you're staying on track and not losing sight of the big picture. This person can offer strategic action plans for next steps in your career advancement. If this person works in your company, he/she may be an advocate for you, including you in key projects or programs.
The Big Picture Mentor
This is a mentor who can help you with the larger questions in your career. It may not be someone you work with directly, and in fact, this person may not even be in the same company. But it's someone that you look up to, someone who has significant experience, and can provide strategic guidance about the course of your career. This is someone that you would consult when it comes to big decisions - changing careers, accepting a new position or going to grad school.
These are just a few of the many ways to describe mentors. And don't feel that you have to find just one person to fit the bill in each category. In fact, it's better if you try to find a diverse group of people to give you the best possible perspectives.
Mentorships don't have to be long-lasting either - you may find that a single conversation with someone can offer you incredibly valuable insights. Even if a relationship with a colleague isn't formally labeled as "mentoring," keep in mind that almost everyone has something to share.
What about you? How have you benefited from a mentor?
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