Career 101 Tip #1: So You Think You Need a Mentor?

Posted: January 21, 2015 in Career Development, General Interest

imageOne valuable stop on the road to professional development is being coached by a good mentor.

If you’re sitting at work and the thing that’s looming in the back of your mind is “I wish I could get better at  ______, this is the perfect time to look for a mentor.

If you just finished your annual review with your manager (these can be stressful) and she/he advises you to improve or develop your ______ skills to get ready for promotion (or because that skill has slipped), it’s also a good time to consider mentoring. Your job may depend on it.

Many years ago in a former life, I was a Human Resources Rep and I still enjoy mentoring/coaching, consulting on professional development, and career planning so I thought I’d share a little info on the topic.


Choose your mentor wisely.

Traits to look for:

Someone who’s encouraging not condescending.

Patient but willing to challenge you.

Willing to empower you but not baby you (that’s what your friends are for).

Someone who can balance their critiques with both positive and negative feedback, without

nit-picking and criticism.

Someone who can help you target and develop self confidence, not someone who allows you to dwell on your insecurities.

The man or woman whose presentation style is awesome and always commands the room and holds everyone’s interest. The person in your work group with many years experience. Someone at your place of work who is in the position you eventually hope to be promoted to. The Director or CEO who’s confidence you admire. Your own manager, instructor, or even your pastor are also good places to start. Identify the skill set that attracts your interest and go from there. It’s perfectly OK to seek out multiple mentors.

Potential mentors are any and everywhere. The first hurdle is being brave enough to approach them. Please don’t spend time entertaining the thought that they may not want to help you, or they’re too busy. The person you’ve identified has probably been in your shoes and may have also been mentored sometime early in their career and wants to pay it forward. If the first person you approach says no, identify someone else.  Yes they always seem super busy, that’s why this next section is helpful.


If your company has a formal mentoring system by all means look into it. The “pro”is that a system is already in place and the program will have structure. This can also be a “con” because too much structure may feel restrictive. Consider more than one mentor at a time (formal and informal)  then you get the best of both worlds. Keep in mind that the majority of your sessions may be by phone.

You can make your request in person, if it’s someone you see frequently, or you can send them an email. Let them know you’d like to chat briefly to ask them a FEW questions about their skills, their development path, or for tips on how you can improve your _____ skill. The more specific and organized your request, the better your chances of getting an appointment.


Let them know you’ve identified a few key areas for development.

Be specific in your questions and avoid vague statements like “tell me about your career.” A potential mentor is more likely to take you under their wing if you don’t pepper them with too many questions at that first session.

Try instead:

“What were three to four key factors to your success in ____ position?”

How did you develop your ____ skill?

How do you maintain and enhance your _____ skill?

Have you ever had a mentor, if so, how did you find them?

Would you be willing to mentor me, I’d like to enhance/develop my ______ skills?

If your first contact goes well, ask if you can check back periodically and agree on a schedule.

I’ve been blessed to have had some excellent mentors throughout my career. I still remember the manager who regretfully and honestly admitted that her department head was NEVER going to allow her to promote me. She was so supportive when I told her I wanted and needed to transfer to a different division. The four women in the Human Resources Department welcomed me with open arms and their collective mentoring and encouragement are still valuable to me over 35 years later.

The ironic twist to the story is that as I advanced in my career receiving multiple promotions in the Human Resources department, I had authority to direct the hiring and management decisions of the department head who had refused to promote me in my previous position. Many times she had to come to see me (in my private office with a window wall looking out on a scenic pond, much better than her crowded windowless space) “Shannyn do you have a minute to talk?”  How about that? Lol.


Good luck!



  1. puccdetroit says:

    This is great advice for those who are seeking career development. Thank you.
    Nicholas Hood III


  2. Wonderful tips. I’ve put your tips to use in yhe past to good effect. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow!! What great info. It can be a daunting experience considering and searching for a mentor. But your tips are very helpful and kinda of take away the mystery. Thanks for this. I’m looking forward to the next post on the subject.


  4. Reblogged this on Motown Writers Network . . . Michigan Literary Network and commented:
    If you’ve ever wished you had a mentor, here are some tips to get you started in your search.


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