Help! I Need A Mentor

Dear Ron,
I know how important it is to one's career development to have a mentor, but I've just switched fields and don't know many people in my new industry and company. What's the best way to go about getting one?
You're right about the value of having a mentor, especially today, but don't be so quick to try to find one. Choosing a mentor should really be a long-term process of identifying the best person or persons to help you get where you want, and then cultivating a strong enough relationship with them so that asking them to become your mentor becomes an easy and natural request with clear mutual benefits.

So first you want to identify someone (and ideally, several someones, in order to hedge your bets) at your company or outside it that you think would be best positioned to help you based on their function and influence. Then you want to start establishing a relationship with them, perhaps by volunteering to work on some initiatives they're pushing or offering some thoughts on or admiration of things they're doing. It's also worth developing relationships with people around this person whose opinion they respect so that you become even more of a known quantity.

Your goal is to present yourself in the most substantive way possible, rather than just having a social, "how you doing?" kind of relationship with them. Bear in mind that mentors don't take on mentees out of altruism--they're looking to take on valued contributors who can grow with their help and reflect well on them, as well as help them down the line.

Over time, you want to work to establish an easy rapport with this person so that when you finally do ask him or her to become your mentor, it's a natural discussion to have. It's also important when making your initial request to have--and be able to express--a clear idea of what it is you want your potential mentor to help you with, whether it's advancing in the organization or acquiring specific skills or experience or what-have-you. This gives your potential mentor a way to assess whether they can truly help you and to decide whether the mentorship is worth pursuing. In my experience, many people who want mentors fail to communicate a strong sense of what it is they want out of the mentorship, and that can be an obstacle to both getting a mentor in the first place and to having a successful relationship with them down the line.

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