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How to Find a Mentor and Give Your Career a Boost

You need to be intentional about finding someone you respect and trust.

You've probably heard that having a mentor is good for your career, but finding a mentor can often feel like searching for your Fairy Godmother. Is she supposed to just appear out of thin air?

If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone. A 2011 LinkedIn survey found that while 82 percent of the women surveyed thought having a mentor was important, almost 20 percent of those women had never had a mentor. Most of those women said it was because they never found someone who was a good fit.

The benefits of well-matched mentorship are invaluable. You can benefit from someone's outside perspective, obtain advice from someone who has navigated similar challenges you are currently facing, receive encouragement, and gain access to your mentor's connections and resources. But a mentor won't just show up when you need her—you need to be intentional about finding someone you respect and trust and nurturing that relationship. Here are a few tips to jump-start your search.

01. Decide what you’re looking for.

Before you start your search, take time to consider what qualities you want in a potential mentor. Are you looking for someone with experience specific to your field? Or perhaps you want to develop a specific skill set such as giving speeches. Your mentoring specifications should guide your search. Write them down so that you can routinely return to them to evaluate your search and your mentoring relationship.

02. Broaden your search.

Obviously coworkers and others within your organization are a good place to start, and local mentoring programs can be great resources. But don't be afraid to think outside the box. Attend events, such as conferences in your industry or a speaker series on the skill you're working on, to expand your network and increase your chances of meeting someone who meets your mentoring criteria.

03. Take advantage of resources.

LinkedIn can be your best friend when it comes to finding a mentor. Utilize the advanced people search to look for connections (even second- or third-level connections) with jobs you admire, and then shoot them a message. Websites like MicroMentor will help you connect with entrepreneurs and business owners to foster professional relationships. Check out the wide array of networking tips on The Muse, a site full of career advice, job postings, and free online classes. And if you’re interested in a journalism career specifically, consider Ed2010’s mentorship program.

04. Recognize that one size does not fit all.

It is likely that there is no one person who can meet your mentor requirements perfectly. So consider having more than one mentor. This way you can focus on finding individuals who specialize in one or two skills you are looking to improve on. For example, you could have one mentor for improving your skills as a manager and another to help you navigate the corporate ladder. Having more than one mentor can give you greater freedom and the ability to draw from a variety of resources. Or consider a "peer mentorship" in which you and a coworker or friend in the field agree to help one another in specific areas.

05. Be creative.

Perhaps when you think of the word "mentorship,” images of a formal relationship with monthly meetings and a detailed agenda come to mind. While this model definitely has its benefits, consider more creative ways to conduct a mentorship. A meeting with a mentor could occur monthly, weekly, on an as-needed basis, or even just once. You and your mentor could meet for a brief breakfast meeting, chat over Skype, or get together for brunch. Regardless of your approach, be sure that you respect your mentor's time and be mindful of her commitments.

The same goes for finding a mentor. Carolyn Lawrence, president and CEO of Women of Influence, Inc, found that often the best mentoring relationships are the ones that happen spontaneously and without a formal “Will you be my mentor?" request. Heeding her advice, reach out to people you admire for coffee. Ask about what they do and see if they have any advice for you. If the connection between the two of you is there, continue meeting up and your relationship will progress naturally. Make your talent and potential known and you may find that those you admire will take an interest in you.

06. Pay it forward.

When you do develop a mentor relationship, don't keep all that you've learned to yourself! Consider sharing the benefits of mentorship by offering to be a mentor to someone else and let others know you are available. Even if you are just starting out in your career, you still have valuable skills that you can pass along to someone in college who is considering entering your field. Finding the right mentor can be challenging, but the reward is worth it—and if you can share that knowledge with someone else, even better.