How to Find and Keep a Mentor

Caroline Beaton

A few months ago, LinkedIn rolled out a new program in San Francisco and Australia that was long overdue: mentor matching. After the surge of online dating apps, it was only a matter of time before someone realized that another kind of relationship—a mentor—is equally hard to find.

And, just like other relationships, mentorship is crucial to our success and wellbeing. According to the professional development platform Everwise, research suggests that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted and earn more money than people without them.

LinkedIn’s new program, now available across the U.S., is initially focused on career advice. The idea, as TechCrunch put it, is to “connect users with mentors who can help them figure out anything to do with their career, whether it’s ideas on how to find a new job, feedback for why they are not getting ahead or feeling satisfied at work, and maybe even to pivot to a new career altogether.” You can login, specify your interests and what you need advice with, and then LinkedIn matches you with willing, relevant mentors—for free.  

But once you’ve found a mentorship, how do you maintain it? How do you get the most from your mentor? Here are three things to keep in mind:

 

1) Mentors want to help—but they don’t want to be “hit up.”

LinkedIn’s research suggests that 89 percent of senior leaders are interested in giving advice. And Everwise’s research indicates that 61 percent of people say that their primary motivation for mentoring is giving back.

But, despite mentors’ good intentions, they’re not willing to help at all costs, particularly if you’re pushy or presumptuous. I once got an email from someone with the subject line “mentor?” He went on to tell me that “I think it would be good [for him] to get published (in journals, magazines, etc.) in order to elevate my own credentials” and asked me to mentor him to get there. I didn’t respond.

Looking back, it was rude to not acknowledge his email, but there were several things about his approach that put me off. For one, I didn’t know him, or have any connection to or relationships in common with him. He didn’t even live in my state. Secondly, he wrote asking me for mentorship, but he clearly had an agenda to get my publishing contacts. So his email came across as manipulative and entitled. Finally, he gave me no indication that he would be a good mentee, or that he was even a good person or employee. He didn’t send me a resume or any clips of his writing. I felt like he would waste my time, and then I’d probably never hear from him again.  

Being a good mentee “comes down to providing value [and] being seen as a trusted partner,” Everwise explains. You don’t have to ask your mentor “What can I do for you?”—there’s often nothing you can do for them—but you need to prove that you’re invested in a long-term relationship, that you’re trustworthy, that you care, that you’re smart, that you want to learn.

In short, don’t be afraid to ask for help. But, when you do, make yourself someone worth helping. Ask yourself, if you were in your potential mentor’s position, whether you would want to help you. If not, re-strategize.

 

2) Mentors aren’t messiahs.

Once people find a mentor, many mistakenly set unrealistically high expectations.

But it’s important to know that, as the digital coaching and leadership development solution Betterup explains, mentors rarely offer regular interaction and action-oriented engagement. A mentor’s “services” often hinge on their availability, which is usually quite limited. “Management is expected to coach, recover areas, keep up with paperwork, manage total store … work on loss prevention, get credit, push the latest promotion … too much for a 45-hour week,” one mentor at Macy’s explained.

So mentees need to be mostly self-sufficient, and then rely on their mentors at crucial points. Consider “picking your battles” by choosing only occasional, high-priority problems to bring to your mentor. Ask yourself, do I really need him/her for this? Is coaching me through this particular situation the best use of everyone’s time?

“Training and mentoring was mainly expected to be done by the employee,” one worker at South Haven Public Schools lamented in a kununu review. But your mentor isn’t free coaching. You have to put in just as much work as they do, if not more. As Jim Rohn said, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.”

Besides, your daily job experience is your best mentor. According to Everwise, 60 percent of people say they learn by doing. Your actual mentor is a supplement. Bank of America’s company line is, according to one employee, “You are responsible for your career.” Exactly: You can’t offload or outsource your career to someone else.  


3) Mentors should be friends.

Just like friends, mentors want to hear about your successes as well as your struggles. People become mentors to help others—and they feel rewarded when their mentees do something great. “I am proud when one of [my] team [members] learns a skill or his/her skill improves. They are so excited and I’m excited for them,” one mentor for Nordstrom explained. Conversely, a mentor at JP Morgan complained that, because turnover was so high, she started to see her time spent on training people as pointless, because they “won’t be around long enough for me to see the fruits of my labor.” Make sure to communicate to your mentor how their guidance has helped you and advanced your career. After all, you’re building a relationship.

Likewise, a long-lasting mentorship depends on mutual affinity toward each other. Remember that your mentors don’t owe you anything. And if they don’t like you, you’ll probably lose them. “Management team only mentored who they liked,” one employee at Nfi Industries complained—but wouldn’t you? Be likable, and people will want to help you.

Conversely, if you feel like your mentor is a “cop not coach,” as one employee put it, you may need to find a different mentor. Some companies facilitate healthy, supportive mentorships better than others. For example, companies that score highly on kununu rating measures like “support from management,” “teamwork” and “communication” include:

  • Starbucks
  • Wells Fargo
  • Kaiser Foundation Hospitals
  • Costco
  • Five Guys
  • AT&T
  • Amazon
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield
  • Progressive Insurance
  • Verizon
  • GEICO

The most important thing to remember is that mentorship isn’t a transaction. It’s a way to genuinely connect with someone. Everwise’s blog observed that “As technology makes it easier for the world to connect, our drive to get to know one another also increases.”  Finding a mentor is one more way to cultivate a real relationship.

 

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Caroline Beaton (@cs_beaton) is kununu’s millennial career expert. She’s an award-winning writer and entrepreneur who helps ambitious millennials change their habits and behaviors to lead more fulfilling lives. Her writing has been has been featured in Forbes, Psychology Today, Business Insider and many others.