I recently attended my favorite conference and usually look forward to connecting with great people and spending time with my mentors. On my way back from the conference I thought about how fortunate I am to have several people in my life that help me to be the best version of myself. I was also filled with gratitude that I formed some new meaningful connections. I look forward to seeing how these new relationships flourish. As I reflected on my experience at the conference I realized that making new connections is a vulnerable experience because there is the fear of rejection or disappointment. At the same time I also realized that in order to be successful, there are some risks that are necessary!
As a doctoral student, I wrote about finding the right mentors and the basics remain the same today. I am also aware of the parallel process that happens. As I am being mentored, I mentor my students in a similar way while adding my unique approach. My hope is that I can encourage my students to mentor others as well while personalizing their approach.
To be successful and achieve our goals, we need others to support, encourage, and motivate us. Since our needs may differ, our preference for a mentor may depend on several factors. No matter what those factors are, there are a few things to consider when finding a mentor. I will expand on some of what I found helpful during my doctoral program.
Know what you want. If you’re taking a journey it might be helpful to know where you are going. Right? The same applies when finding a mentor. What do you need? What are your goals? How can a mentor help you? What do you hope to learn from your mentor? How can your mentor help you to accomplish your goals? What are some things you would like to learn from your mentor that you don’t already know? Do you want a mentor that is the same gender as you?
If you don’t know what you want that’s okay. Your mentor should play an important role in helping you to map out your future. Your mentor can normalize the idea that sometimes you aren’t exactly sure about what you want and need assistance narrowing down goals or creating a roadmap. In essence, your mentor should help you to make informed decisions. While it’s okay to not know what you want as yet, it’s not okay for your mentor to encourage you to stay in that state of uncertainty.
Know their personality. This one may take some time, but get to know the person you want to ask for mentoring. Does their personality match yours? Do you share common interests (professional and personal)? Does this person seem easy to talk with or approachable? Are you enthusiastic and need someone with a similar level of energy? Do you need a mentor to help you be more mindful and relaxed? How does your mentor communicate? Does their communication style align with yours?
Find someone to provide support. Even the most ambitious and seemingly productive person needs support at one point or the other. As we say, life happens, and when it does we need to know that we can get support. Will your mentor be able to provide this support? Can you trust your mentor?
Be able to learn from this person. Your mentor should be able to teach, inspire and help you discover new opportunities. Ideally, your mentor would take you outside of your cognitive comfort zone and encourage professional and personal growth. Can you learn new things from your mentor? Will your mentor include you in projects that create learning opportunities?
Know their expectations. I think this is one of the most important factors when selecting a mentor. Although you may have certain expectations from your mentor it is crucial that you avoid assuming what they expect of you. To avoid this you simply need to have that discussion. You can ask “what do you expect from those you mentor?” or “I’ve expressed what I’m looking for in a mentor and I wonder if you think my expectations are aligned with yours?” One of the reasons why it is important to know what your mentor expects is so you avoid conflict, disappointment, miscommunication, and decreased motivation.
If you are considering a mentor I hope these points help you to think more about what you may need or what to consider.
“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”