5 Tips for Finding a Mentor Who Can Completely Transform Your Career

August 2, 2016, 4:14 PM UTC
Businessmen standing at end of pathway in lake
Two businessmen standing together at end of stone pathway on lake looking and pointing out
Photograph by Thomas Barwick — Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: How do you find a mentor? is written by Bill Ingram, VP of Adobe Analytics and Adobe Social.

In today’s highly competitive business world, having a mentor can signify the difference between success and failure. For anyone seeking professional growth, mentors may be one of the most valuable resources you can tap into to provide guidance, advice, support, strategic feedback, and often a fresh perspective to an issue.

In a recent survey of 45 CEOs who had mentors, 84% reported that mentorship relationships helped them avoid expensive mistakes and learn insights into their career paths more quickly. At their best, mentors can help you unlock your full potential, garner otherwise inaccessible knowledge about your industry or specialty, and endure setbacks without losing focus or confidence. Choosing the wrong mentor, on the other hand, can result in an unproductive, frustrating relationship that moves you no closer to achieving your career goals, potentially severing a connection. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years for finding the right mentor and forging a constructive, edifying relationship:

A mentor should inspire you to improve
No one is perfect, and your first step to finding a mentor is self-awareness. Be honest with yourself, and determine exactly the area(s) you need to improve in order to thrive in your professional life. Your mentor should be someone who not only excels in these areas, but also inspires you to do the same. One of my early mentors was a masterful organizational manager whose influence remains with me today. Are you looking to be a more effective communicator? Then seek out people who make you think, “I wish I could express myself like that during meetings.” Do you need to build your product management skill set? Then find someone who exemplifies those abilities in your eyes.

Be clear about what you want—and don’t sugarcoat it
Before you embark on a mentor/mentee relationship, you need to be upfront about your expectations. What are your goals, and why do you think this person can help you achieve them? Honesty is critical, especially at this early stage. Don’t tell your potential mentor what you think he or she wants to hear. Speak your mind, and determine together if this relationship is beneficial for both parties.

There’s such a thing as too experienced
If you’re a recent college graduate just entering the workforce, it’s unlikely that a C-suite executive is the right mentor for this stage of your career. Whatever your position, look for someone who can walk in your shoes, and understand or empathize with the specific challenges you face. As a mentor, some of my most productive relationships have been with people a couple of levels below me at my organization. At the same time, be careful about approaching colleagues who have too similar of a resume. These relationships can easily become competitive—a dynamic that benefits neither of you.

Look for someone who shares your passion and problem
While an effective mentor obviously needs to be enthusiastic about you and your career, one of the best ways to ensure excitement is basing the relationship on a shared interest. So ask yourself, “What problem am I passionate about solving?” Maybe it’s a challenge facing your organization or industry. Maybe it’s a social issue, like education. Whatever the problem might be, look for someone who is attempting to solve it and ask to be involved.


Earn your mentor’s respect
From a mentor’s point of view, you are an investment—and one that won’t necessarily pay off. If you want the relationship to flourish, you need to earn it. This means suppressing your ego when your mentor offers criticisms you’d rather not hear, and doing your best to trust that person when his or her advice contradicts your own judgment. You also need to treat your mentor’s attention as a valuable resource, so be sure to have a plan for every meeting. That way, you get the most out of each interaction without ever wasting time.