APU Careers Careers & Learning

Why Finding a Mentor Can Be Important for Your Career

By Dr. Larry D. Parker, Jr.
Department Chair, Transportation and Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management, Reverse Logistics Management, and Government Contracting and Acquisition

The beginning of your career is both thrilling and frightening. The start of something new is enticing, but the uncertainty of how your career will go is also daunting.

Is there something that could make your career transition more relaxing as well as more rewarding? According to Anjuli Sastry Krbechek and Andee Tagle of National Public Radio (NPR), finding a mentor – someone who is an experienced and trusted advisor – can prove very helpful in your career development by providing both advice and criticism when needed.

Finding a Mentor

Priscilla Clayman of Harvard Business Review notes that finding the right mentor is the first step in establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. Ideally, you need to know yourself and your environment. For instance, where do you see your career next week as well as in five years?

After you’ve figured that out, is there someone where you work who is already in that position you seek? Figure out who you look up to and aspire to be.

Preferably, that person is who you would like to mentor you. However, if he or she is unavailable, a valuable lesson can still be learned through observation and conversation with that person. For instance, what is that person’s work ethic? How was his or her current position achieved?

In your search for the right person, don’t forget to consider your ethnicity and gender. Krbechek and Tagle advise, “Consider an identity-based mentor in your organization, especially if you need to talk about issues you’re facing as an underrepresented person in your professional surroundings.”

Also don’t forget the people with whom you have already created a relationship. Perhaps you already have a mentor and just didn’t realize it. Is there someone you already trust and who you go to with questions and concerns?

Creating a mentor-mentee relationship may be as simple as formally asking that person to be your mentor. Whether he or she is someone you already knew or the relationship is in the beginning stages, remember to not take advantage of that mentor’s generosity.

He or she can’t increase your pay raise, speak on your behalf or promote you. A mentor is a guide, not a steppingstone.

Related link: The Business World and the Future Post-COVID-19 Environment

Asking for Mentoring

After you’ve narrowed down your search and determined who you’d like to be your mentor, it’s time to make the formal request for someone to be your mentor. But this request can feel nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not an outgoing person.

Having a mentor isn’t like having a best friend. Instead, it is a more professional relationship so the way you ask can determine whether that person will accept or reject your request.

The most important rule is to be prepared. Do the research and know your goals. Remember the position you hope to obtain and the reason you chose the person you wished to mentor you.

Don’t forget all of that information in your nervousness. Be upfront and specific; that way, your potential mentor understands what you’re requesting and why.

If you’ve never met your potential mentor, let the mentor know what you admire about that person. Help your potential mentor to realize you didn’t just pick a random name out of a jar to mentor you.

If you’re emailing that person for the first time and he or she has no idea who you are, perhaps ask the mentor for a chat over coffee. That way, each of you can put a name to a face and determine if establishing a mentor-mentee relationship is truly a good fit for both of you.

Finally, once you’ve made the request, be kind and courteous if the potential mentor declines to participate. Don’t burn a potential future bridge because of disappointment or anger.

Related link: How to Create a Successful First Meeting with Your Mentor

Being a Mentee

Once you’ve found the right mentor, now it’s time to learn to be the best mentee possible. After all, you’ve gone through all that time, effort, research and anxiety. You certainly don’t want to lose your mentor because you didn’t keep up your end of the bargain.

So what can you do to keep a positive and fulfilling relationship with your mentor? Communication has been and always will be key.

Write down your goals and share them with your mentor. The mentor will help you keep on track as much as possible. The mentor can also determine what tasks might help in getting you to your career goal(s) more quickly.

Be specific about when, how, and for how long you want to meet. This meeting doesn’t have to be in person. In fact, in the current climate, video messages and calls are great ways to communicate while keeping everyone safe.

In these meetings, keep to an agenda. This strategy keeps everyone on task and away from needless chitchat or office gossip.

Also, take notes. Chances are you won’t remember everything that was said, and you’ll be kicking yourself later for not writing down a specific piece of advice you were determined to remember.

While taking notes, write down both the positives and the negatives. No one likes criticism, but oftentimes, constructive criticism pushes us in the right direction. Negative feedback isn’t a deal breaker; in fact, it shows your mentor isn’t afraid to be tough so that you can prosper and grow in your career.

In addition, remember that he or she is busy advancing his or her own career. Be mindful of this work and perhaps set up a specific day or month to end the mentorship.

The end of the relationship doesn’t have to happen, but it might make your mentor feel more at ease to know he or she isn’t being roped into years of mentoring.

Furthermore, you don’t have to have just one mentor. You can learn much information from one person, but also learn something very different but equally beneficial from another. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and obtain as much knowledge as possible.

Finding, asking and keeping a mentor is hard work because it’s a formal relationship. You’re not simply asking a friend out for coffee to gripe about your boss or colleagues.

Being the mentee takes effort, responsibility and organization. But in the end, it can be a big payoff in terms of career development and confidence. You will have learned valuable lessons and skills from someone you admire and who you aspire to be.

Later on, when you’re that person sitting at the coveted desk and a nervous, sweaty intern asks you to become a mentor, you can pass on all the knowledge you gained from your own experience as a mentee. That might be an even better feeling than when you established your first mentor-mentee relationship.

Dr. Parker currently serves as the Department Chair, Transportation and Logistics Management, Supply Chain Management, Reverse Logistics Management, and Government Contracting and Acquisition. Dr. Parker is a native of Temple, Texas, a certified Inspector General by the Association of Inspector Generals, and a proud member of professional organizations advancing knowledge and professionalism, such as the Association of Supply Chain Management and the National Naval Officers Association. Dr. Parker is a published author, inspirational speaker, consummate entrepreneur, and consultant who speaks worldwide on diversity, inclusion, and leadership. He holds a Ph.D. in organization and management from Capella University, an MBA from Liberty University, and a B.A. in history from Wittenberg University. Learn more about Dr. Parker by visiting Dr. Larry D. Parker Jr. Inspires.

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