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How to Find a Professional Mentor

December 13, 2021
professional mentor sitting together focused on laptop

No matter what industry you work in or what level you're at in your career, you can always benefit from the guidance of a professional mentor. Mentorship calls for a certain kind of talented business veteran who understands that sharing the lessons they’ve learned is deeply important to the growth and success of the next generation of managers and leaders. But how do you identify the right person to fill this crucial role in your professional life? And how do you establish a strong mentor-mentee relationship with them?

Below, read five tips for how to find a professional mentor in any industry. You’ll learn how to find someone who can truly connect with your goals to help you on your career path, as well as how to work most effectively with your mentor.

Start by Looking Within

It may seem counterintuitive, but the first conversation you need to have while searching for a professional mentor is with yourself. The decision to seek out career guidance needs to stem from a very specific idea of where you want to go. Beyond simply having a dream job in mind, you should list out specific steps that you’ll need assistance completing as you work toward that job.1

Do you need help developing a skill that you know is missing from your resume? Or would you benefit from additional experience with and pointed advice about the interview process? Whatever your professional development requirements are, you should understand them deeply before you can learn how to find a professional mentor for yourself.

Your Professional Mentor: Neither a Manager nor a Coach

A common mistake that many professionals make is confusing mentorship for either management or career coaching. If you start your search by assuming that your current manager is a top candidate, you may be narrowing your focus too much. If you work at a large company and aspire to have your manager's job, they might not be particularly interested in helping to put you on competitive footing with them.2 Even if they are sympathetic to your career goals, they may struggle to balance their responsibilities as your manager to your specific needs as a mentee.

It’s also important that you distinguish mentorship from career coaching. The most basic difference between the two is that you typically pay a career coach for targeted professional development advice; the transactional nature of this relationship inherently limits the scope of the impact they can have on you.3 While they may help you develop your LinkedIn profile, build your resume, or identify the right opportunities to apply to, they likely will not take your long-range development into consideration the way a true mentor would.

Coordinate Schedules

After a healthy period of soul-searching and surveying your professional network, hopefully you will have identified a strong candidate to serve as your mentor. That's great! But there's a catch: You also need to ensure that your schedules are compatible and that both of you can set aside a consistent time to meet. An often-overlooked piece of how to find a professional mentor is being able to communicate amidst all of your personal and professional responsibilities.

Chances are, your chosen mentor will have a very full schedule, as they likely are at a point in their career where they have significant responsibilities at work. Be respectful of this when approaching them about mentoring you. Try to find a system that works for both of you; this could mean coffee once a week in the afternoon, perhaps a monthly lunch date, or even just a regular rhythm of emails or text messages.2 As long as you mutually agree on a pattern of communication that fits—that also respects your mentor's time as well as your own—you should be able to make the relationship work.

Look Outside of Your Field

Another way that people often unnecessarily narrow their search for a mentor is by focusing exclusively on the field in which they currently work. Maybe there is someone in your network who has the C-suite position you desire, but it’s a different industry from your own. Or perhaps you have a friend who has spent time in management consulting, who has seen enough examples of career development and promotion to offer cogent advice on how to best position yourself.

Whatever the case, try to consider your potential professional mentor in terms of attributes that would make them the best suited candidate for the role. Oftentimes, basic business principles translate directly from industry to industry.4 For example, if you work in marketing but have a friend in finance whose work ethic and drive you admire greatly, don't rule them out simply because their day-to-day tasks look a bit different from yours.

Think Beyond an Individual

While you might have specific career aspirations in mind, try to stay open to the possibility that your ideal mentor might not just be one person at all. It can be helpful to think of your career mentorship as a "board of advisors" from which you draw advice and inspiration. This can mean you consult with a number of different people in your professional sphere, all of whom are committed to your development and success.5

A direct mentor-mentee relationship can be a lot to ask one extremely busy individual to commit to, after all. By involving more successful, experienced voices in your mentorship process, you can gain the added bonus of diversifying the information you receive and broadening your perspective to multiple approaches.

Join a Program with Valuable Connections

When you pursue an MBA or other graduate degree, one major benefit is the connections you gain along the way—even if you earn your degree online. For example, the Online MBA program from Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business creates opportunities (both online and in person) for networking between student cohorts, faculty, and business school alumni. As you learn more about yourself and advance your skills through the program, you’ll meet talented professionals in countless fields to help propel your career in an exciting new direction.

You can learn more about how to find a professional mentor among our renowned business faculty and your diverse and driven classmates at Yeshiva by talking to an Admissions Advisor today.