Sometimes, personal drive and education need a boost. If you’re struggling to achieve your goals, you may need a mentor. Mentorship programs are a great place to start looking.
Even the most accomplished college graduates recognize that education rarely provides all the answers for the real world. According to recent research from Gallup, only 36 percent of college graduates strongly agreed that their degrees provided the knowledge and skills they needed to succeed in the workplace.
Graduates might hope to find the training they need at work, but sadly, most companies won’t provide everything necessary. The average training time has plummeted from 2.5 weeks per year in 1979 to just 11 hours in 1995, and the trend shows no sign of reversing.
To close the gap, professionals need mentors willing to invest in their future and teach them to make the most of their limited opportunities.
How to Find and Utilize a Mentor
Unfortunately, great mentors don’t grow on trees. Finding someone who is good at her work, cares about you, and has the time to invest in you isn’t something that happens without some intentionality on your part.
Use these tips to find the right mentor and leverage that relationship into a more successful career:
1. Find a work environment that values mentorship.
You’ve got to find a company culture that values learning and personal growth. Look for companies where “lifelong learning” is a shared attribute among the people who work there. It can sometimes be difficult to find people willing to invest in others in a highly competitive culture or in a company where an “up or out” mentality exists. If you’re in a position to choose or change your work environment, look for companies that value mentorship, and you won’t find a shortage of generous leaders willing to share with you what they’ve learned. If a job change isn’t in your future, get involved with a networking group, a trade association, or a learning group like Ellevate.
Credera, a full-service management and consulting firm, believes strongly in the power of mentorship at work. The company established a mentoring program that’s helped fuel the growth-oriented mindset the firm values. “Mentorship is not just a program,” Matt Levy, managing director at Credera, says. “Learning is a value that is core to our culture. By fostering an environment where employees feel encouraged to learn from one another and share their knowledge, we have developed a team of people eager to invest in the growth of their colleagues. Our people are the best part of our firm.”
2. Look in familiar places.
If you ask Elon Musk to be your mentor, what do you think he’ll say? You can wait as long as you want, but the odds aren’t in your favor.
Mentorship is a personal journey for mentor and mentee alike. Reaching out to a stranger and expecting to develop a good relationship based solely on your need for guidance isn’t a pragmatic strategy. Instead, sow the seeds of friendship by engaging with a variety of people in who may make good mentors.
If someone in your network would make a good mentor, become a student of that person from afar. Engage with your would-be guide on LinkedIn and other social media sites. Send the occasional email or article relevant to your shared interests. Make friends with no strings attached; then, when it comes time to ask for mentorship, you can ask a close acquaintance instead of a stranger.
3. Learn to be the best mentee possible.
No matter how good a mentor may be, a mentee must be coachable. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. When you ask someone to invest time in your development, do that person the courtesy of preparing yourself for the lessons to come.
The best mentees understand they’re not the only priority on their mentors’ agendas. Great mentors tend to be busy people, so be prepared to make the most of each interaction.
Ask questions, take notes during conversations, and implement the suggestions on your own time. Don’t be the person who constantly follows up to ask, “Is this what you meant? Did I do it right?” Instead, take the advice offered to see how it applies in real life. Your mentor will be far more willing to help if you limit your requests to times when you truly need it.
4. Apply your mentorship mindset to every area of work.
Great mentors and mentees share a common trait: insatiable intellectual curiosity. Rather than view your mentor as your primary source of knowledge, follow your mentor’s example as a person who always has more to learn.
Be thoughtful before turning down an opportunity to learn a new skill or explore a new subject. You can find information relevant to your personal growth in the unlikeliest of places. Marketers who learn a bit of coding can open entirely new doors for their futures. Coders who learn sales skills become even more valuable to their organizations.
McGraw-Hill, for example, took this idea to heart when creating its mentorship program. Aiming to broaden the perspective of more than 20,000 employees in dozens of countries, the publishing company built its program across various verticals and countries to increase the number of viewpoints and shared skills. The effort paid off: Eighty-eight percent of participating employees said their view had broadened.
As you continue to learn and grow, you may find others looking to you for guidance. Take those opportunities to continue the mentorship cycle. Teach people who want to learn from you, and use those opportunities to examine your own knowledge. One of the best ways to codify learning is to share your knowledge with another person.
Mentorship is one of the most effective and sustainable forms of career development for professionals both young and old. Whether you’re considering a career switch or trying to climb the ladder, mentorship is a great way to help achieve your goals this year.