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How to Build Your Mentoring Network

If you are a professional in the first few years of your career, you probably know about the importance of having a mentor. However, you may have yet to successfully find one.

In "How to Be a Smart Protégé," featured in the MIT Sloan Management Review, authors Dawn E. Chandler, Douglas T. Hall and Kathy E. Kram discuss the difficulty young professionals face in finding a traditional mentor in today's work environment:

Seasoned workers rarely stay in a job long enough to stick close to a protégé for any length of time. And they're often too harried managing their own careers to devote lots of attention to somebody else's.

As an alternative, they suggest young workers should build up a network of mentors to avoid relying on one person and to avail themselves of a broader range of knowledge.

It should be noted that relationship building takes time and skill, and some people may feel lucky to simply forge a connection with one mentor. Luckily, the authors' advice applies whether you are seeking out a single mentor or a whole guidance network.

Here's a summary:

  • 1. Bring the right attitude: If you have a positive outlook, you'll have more luck encountering others who will be interested in helping you. You should also be outgoing and willing to suggest a mentoring relationship instead of waiting around for someone to take you on.
  • 2. Notice interest: Just because a colleague doesn't offer to mentor you doesn't mean they wouldn't be happy to do so. The authors suggest "reading between the lines" and noticing who takes interest in your career and tends to offer you advice and support.
  • 3. Make it a two-way street: If you come to meetings with your mentor just hoping to absorb any wisdom they want to give out, you're not making it easy on them to give you guidance. Instead, prepare questions and topics you'd like to discuss. This should go without saying, but also ask your mentors about their projects and offer to help, as mutually beneficial relationships tend to last the longest.
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