Mentors are indispensable when you're launching your career or learning the ropes in a new industry. They'll help you understand the field, guide you through what you need to do personally and professionally in order to succeed, and often just lend an ear when you need to talk about problems, issues and successes. Sounds great, right? But how do you go about finding a mentor? And how can you make sure that you find a mentor who's a good fit for you?
1. Mentoring Organizations
Yes, there are organizations that devote themselves to helping connect you with potential mentors. SCORE, which is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is one of the largest and most respected mentoring organizations out there. It boasts 12,000 volunteer mentors across 62 industries, and its services are provided at low or no cost. You can look up potential mentors, communicate with them via phone or email, participate in workshops, access free online business tools and templates, and eventually even become a volunteer mentor yourself. There are more than 340 chapters nationally, so you're likely to find one in your region. Other mentoring organizations to check out include the Mentoring Women's Network, American Corporate Partners' Veteran Mentoring Program, MicroMentor and America's Small Business Development Center Network.
2. Friends of Friends of Friends
Finding a mentor is an exercise in effective networking. And that means you're going to have to talk with your friends, meet their friends and so on. Expanding your social network, through cocktail parties, dinners, social hours or book signings, is key to finding a mentor, particularly one with whom you click.
You'll meet many new people—some of whom might be good mentors now, some later. You never know how they'll be able to help you, or vice versa, and this give-and-take is all part of finding and offering help when needed. While you're networking, make no secret of the fact that you're looking for a mentor. You might find someone who has wanted to help but didn't know how to begin. Your mention might be just the opportunity that person has been looking for.
Conferences are useful for a variety of reasons—staying abreast in your field, learning about new technologies and conceiving of potential new business opportunities. They're also ripe ground for your mentor search. Workshop and seminar leaders, in particular, are usually well-experienced in their fields, and approaching them after a session, trading business cards and arranging for coffee or a drink later is a great way to get a sense of their interest in mentoring, and your overall compatibility.
4. Yoga Class
This might seem a strange place to look for a mentor, but think about it for a minute. Many stressed-out business professionals—read, those at the top of their game—tend to gravitate toward the relaxing and rejuvenating practice of yoga. Granted, the last thing they might want to hear while in Downward-Facing Dog pose is, "Would you be interested in being my business mentor?" However, it's worth getting to know your fellow yoga classmates, perhaps in the locker room afterward. You never know where those relationships might lead. And what's the worst that can happen? You'll get some much-needed relaxation and rejuvenation yourself.
5. Colleges, Universities and Online Courses
Taking courses can help to strengthen your skills, and they can also introduce you to a host of potential mentors. From the professors and instructors to your fellow classmates, these courses are filled with people who have all kinds of business expertise. Take advantage of this chance to meet experts, learn new things and find someone who might be able to help you in the future.
Finding a mentor doesn't have to be a mysterious process. You're already good at making friends and advancing your career—now you just need to take deliberate steps to find a person who will see the mutual benefit in forming a mentoring, and collegial, relationship with you.
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Vivian Wagner is a freelance writer in New Concord, Ohio.