How To Find And Use A Mentor

Mar 14 2014, 10:34am CDT | by

How To Find And Use A Mentor
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

How To Find And Use A Mentor

I found a mentor without looking for one. Back in the early ’90s I was producing talking heads segments for a public television news program, MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, where I was always on the lookout for articulate women panelists. I saw an economist named Susan Lee on a Bill Moyers show, thought she was dynamite, and invited her to be a guest on the NewsHour. As Susan became a regular, we started a friendship. Then in 1994 Robert MacNeil announced he was retiring, and the show was shutting its New York office. I needed a new job.

Susan, who had worked at some of the most prestigious media outlets in New York, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, swung into action, introducing me to well-connected friends, overhauling my résumé and coaching me on my career. She helped me land my job at Forbes, and she didn’t stop there. She has guided my path here, advising me on everything from office politics to how to handle calls from headhunters and the vicissitudes of my changing profession (a recent admonition: figure out what you can do professionally outside of journalism). She’s provided me no end of great counsel and served as a model for success and career satisfaction. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.

As the years passed, I found myself mentoring several young women here at Forbes. One of them, Maha Atal, graduated from my alma mater, Brown University, and interned here before becoming a fellow for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, working in Pakistan, reporting and blogging. She has since cofounded Public Business, a nonprofit that supports business journalism that serves the public interest, in addition to pursuing a thriving freelance career that included a Forbes cover story about IMF chief Christine Lagarde. She’s now studying for her Ph.D. in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Though Maha has claimed she looks up to me and that I’ve helped her in her young career, I find her intelligence, energy and insight into the world of new media almost as rewarding as my relationship with Susan.

So far, my mentor-mentee relationships have evolved organically. Susan and I had good chemistry, as did Maha and I. I consider these relationships at least as much friendships as professional connections. Which got me wondering: Can mentoring be arranged? Is it possible to go out and find a mentor as a matter of course?

“The answer is, sometimes,” says Ellen Ensher, a professor of management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and author of Power Mentoring: How Successful Mentors and Protégés Get the Most out of Their Relationships. She notes that most major companies think so; 70% have some sort of mentoring program in place.

Ensher teaches a human resources course each semester in which she assigns students to go out and find their own mentors. Many express trepidation at the outset, but they’re almost always successful by term’s end, she says.

To help her students, she has come up with an eight-step process for locating a mentor. First step: self-examination. Take a look at your strengths and weaknesses and at the areas in which you need to improve, which she calls your “growing edges.” What are your goals? How will you use a mentor once you find one? Imagine your ideal mentor, she suggests. Is it Oprah Winfrey? If so, try to analyze which of her qualities you find most appealing.

Next step: network. Tell everyone you know that you need a mentor. Tap your parents and their friends. Use your school’s career office. Look into professional organizations. Go online, especially on LinkedIn.

When you’re ready to reach out, be specific. People are more likely to respond to a concrete request, like a 20-minute coffee meeting to discuss the potential mentor’s career path, than to an open-ended cry for help, which could potentially turn into a burdensome time suck. Ease into the relationship. Establish rapport before you ask for too much.

Pursue more than one mentor at the same time, Ensher also advises. Even if your ideal is Oprah, you may find her empathy in one mentor, her business savvy in another and a slew of great professional networking connections in a third. Throughout your search, think about what you can offer in return for your mentor’s generosity. Maybe you’re a whiz with Facebook. Or if your would-be mentor works in advertising or marketing, you could offer up some ideas or strategies from a youthful perspective.

Once the door is open, take action. “I had a mentor who said to me, ‘I’m like a blank check. You have to write the check,’” Ensher recalls. Stay in touch. If you had an interesting discussion with her and then you see a related article in a newspaper or magazine, e-mail the link. Or if you run across a book you think would interest your mentor, buy it for her.

Finally, follow up. Write a thank-you e-mail or give a quick call when your mentor has done you a favor. If she helped you set up an interview, let her know how it went. Inform her when you’ve landed an internship or job.

Mentor relationships can wax and wane with the rhythms of our lives, but don’t let them lapse. They’re far too valuable.

 This is an update of a story that appeared previously.

Source: Forbes Business

 
 

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