A career mentor can help you make tough decisions, navigate career choices, provide context for tough times, and help you take full advantage when things are going great. Sounds like something everyone should have, right? But how do you even begin finding the right mentor for you?
That’s an excellent question. We spoke with several experts about what makes a good mentor and why you should consider seeking one.
What is a mentor?
“A mentor is a guide and role model, not a teacher,” says Dr. Lincoln Stoller, Principal at Mind Strength Balance. “A mentor does not tell you what or how to learn, what or how to act. They are people who are either on a path that you'd like to follow or have been on that path and can guide you on a similar path for yourself. Mentorship is a mutual commitment. There is a mutual reliance that's based on your fulfillment, not on your performance. Mentoring develops meaning beyond the subject matter. If it does not, then the relationship is one of teaching or tutoring.”
Nikki Jain, Founder and CEO of The Sprout, tells Dice: “In essence, a mentor is like your own private counselor, one with more experience that can lead you in many areas of life, career, or personal development. Drawing on their own experiences, they provide insights to aid decision-making. Think of them as a cross between a coach, an older colleague, and sometimes even a friend who's been on some rough roads (just like you) themselves.”
What are the benefits of having a mentor?
“A mentor gives you access to valuable insights and experience, networking opportunities, and assistance in figuring out who you are and where life is taking you,” Jain adds. “Mentors can guide you through the intricate professional terrain, give guidance in overcoming obstacles, and open up new paths. They can also provide moral support and encouragement, helping you develop personally and professionally.”
“Mentors provide a wealth of knowledge and experience that can help accelerate your learning curve,” says Ritesh Raj, co-founder and COO of CuddlyNest. “Additionally, they can offer valuable insights and perspectives that challenge your thinking and help you grow professionally and personally.
To be a mentor, Raj adds, “one needs to have a genuine desire to help others grow. They should have relevant experience or knowledge that can benefit the mentee. But more than that, they need to be good listeners, empathetic, and patient. Being a mentor is about more than just sharing knowledge; it’s about helping others unlock their potential.”
Dr. Stoller reminds us that while a mentor can help guide you and shape your path, they also let you learn from your mistakes. “A mentoring relationship fosters humanity in learning and combining wisdom with knowledge. The best mentors do little that's obvious. They have created a path and invited you to follow it, sometimes with them and other times after them. They watch you and will work to prevent your total failure, but they will not deny your small failures.”
What does a mentor do?
Therese Myers, founder and CEO at the mentorship Yes Girls Create and the Director of Data Management for Tiffany & Co., tells Dice: “A great mentor can take the mentee's words and create action plans for the future with deliverables.”
Jain adds: “A truly great mentor is someone who hears you and your worries, imparts relevant experiences and knowledge for reflection and gives balanced feedback on where your deficiencies lie so that they can be corrected. They aren't there to force your hand, but rather, they point you in a direction so that you can find the right path for yourself. They are there to help and inspire your development, opening up doors for new life.”
Mentors are there to provide insight from afar. Often, we get caught up in the minutiae of our work and need a more holistic vision; mentors can be beneficial in that regard. A great mentor also keeps up with trends affecting your business or career and helps you understand what can or should be next for you.
Your mentor should act differently from your boss or conflate their guidance with orders. The role of a mentor is to provide insight; what you do with the information is essential, but the mentor shouldn’t get so invested that a poor decision on your part affects them personally.
How do I find a mentor?
“Finding a mentor often involves identifying someone who embodies the qualities or achievements you aspire to,” Raj says. “It could be a senior colleague, a leader in your industry, or even someone outside your field who inspires you. The key is to approach them respectfully, express your admiration for their work, and ask if they’d be willing to mentor you."
Eric Eng, founder and CEO of college admissions service Admissionsight, reminds us that while a mentor shouldn’t be your best friend, a good relationship is critical. “Finding a mentor begins with identifying someone who embodies the success or knowledge you seek in a specific field. It's about looking for individuals ahead of you in your chosen path. I'd recommend attending industry events, joining related online forums, and leveraging platforms like LinkedIn to connect with potential mentors. When you do find someone, it's important to establish a proper rapport before asking them to mentor you.”
You can find a mentor at the company you work for, at networking events, or online. Find someone whose business sense resonates with you, and ask them to mentor you. Chances are, you’ll find more people willing to help than you might think.
One crucial factor in having a mentor is maintaining yourself in the process. Mentors are there to guide you, but how they approach scenarios or issues may be different from how you want to handle things. If you feel you are being encouraged to act in a way that doesn’t feel right, it may be time to revisit the mentor-and-mentee relationship.
For more on mentorship, you can also check out Dice’s ‘Tech Connects’ podcast episode with Errol Pierre, a healthcare executive, professor, public speaker and author who’s written quite a bit on mentorship. The video of the episode is below, and breaks out some additional tips for finding your ideal mentor for the current stage of your career: