A good definition of mentor is a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. Anyone with more experience than you can be your mentor. He or she can be older or younger than you, as long as they have more professional or industry knowledge. The relationship can be a formal one where you have scheduled meetings with specific agendas. Or the relationship can be so informal that neither of you even realizes that the person is your mentor. Ideally, you should have multiple mentors that bring a different perspective or expertise, so that no matter what your issue, you have someone with relevant experience to turn to.

A mentor is different from a role model, as a mentor is not only someone who inspires you, but also is accessible and can actively help you.

Understanding a Mentor’s Role:

  • To share their experience, insight, perspective & expertise
  • To help you avoid problems & gain access to opportunities
  • To help you develop skills & tools
  • To provide constructive criticism – don’t take it personally!
  • To introduce you to their network

Mentors Are NOT:

  • Employment agencies
  • Therapists
  • Friends
  • Your mom

Tips for Ensuring a Successful Relationship:

  • Prepare for your meetings ahead of time
  • Listen to advice with an open mind; then make your own decision
  • Respect one another’s boundaries
  • Remember that it is a relationship – and every relationship must be mutually beneficial
  • Establish good communication habits
  • Maintain the relationship proactively for the long-term

A mentor does not have to come from inside your own company or industry. In many cases it is helpful to have an outsider bring a fresh, unbiased perspective. This can be especially useful if you are dealing with sensitive client issues or office politics.

On the other hand, you might find that sometimes it’s best to have someone who understands the unique challenges of your profession.

Regardless of where you find a mentor, having one can help you stay focused on your career goals. Mentors help you read and understand the maps in the hypothetical cross-country drive of your career. They help you navigate rough stretches because they have been there before, while guiding you to make the most of new opportunities – and perhaps take chances you might otherwise pass up.

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