According to Dictionary.com, a mentor is defined in a couple of ways. A mentor is a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher” and “an influential senior sponsor or supporter”. It isn’t uncommon for employees within an organization to not have a mentor; however, having a mentor is extremely beneficial. I would suggest that even though you may not be employed, as a student, you should certainly consider having a mentor. Throughout the course of my career, I have had numerous mentors-I just didn’t refer to them as such! It wasn’t until 2006 that I had someone who worked closely with me, to support me from a career perspective that I actually referred to as “my mentor”. It was then that I realized how important having a mentor at work really is and how much I’d limited myself in previous years.
You may be asking yourself at this point, “Do I really need a mentor”? Based on the definition alone, the answer is yes! A mentor is someone that you can trust, someone that you can talk to about what is/ isn’t happening in your career. Having someone other than your immediate supervisor who can provide wisdom and feedback creates balance in your view of self. Oftentimes, we see ourselves one way and those around us see us differently. The danger in not having the perspective of someone else is that we can limit ourselves, since others see potential that we can’t see. Alternatively, there are areas of improvement that each of us have (that we are sometimes oblivious to) that a mentor can detect. By not having a mentor for many years, I didn’t have anyone that I could be totally transparent with at work. There were instances where I had problems involving co-workers that I couldn’t speak to my leader about. Then there were the times that I had challenges with my immediate supervisor and having a neutral party to solicit ideas from would have been advantageous to me.
Your next question might be, “How do I select a mentor”? I would suggest that you observe your potential mentor to make sure that he/she is modeling the behavior that you exemplify before you decide. While observing, you can see what his/her work ethic is like, you can learn of their reputation, and you can learn of their professional experience. There are some leaders within an organization that we want to be like, and then there are some that we don’t want to be like! After you have selected a mentor, it is up to you to introduce yourself and ask if they would be interested in mentoring you. Be prepared to tell the person why you are interested in having them as a mentor. It is perfectly acceptable to have more than one mentor and sometimes the person that you ask initially can’t mentor you. Having more than one person in mind as your mentor will allow you to rebound if your first choice isn’t available.
Once your mentoring relationship is established, please value the time that someone is taking to invest in you. It is imperative that you show up on time, prepared to discuss your performance, and anything else pertaining to your career. You will find that within a matter of months, you will start to look at your career from another perspective. Mentors provide options and stretch us mentally if we are open to fresh ideas and a new perspective. If you don’t have a mentor, you are neglecting yourself as well as your career, because having one is just that valuable; just that critical to your success.
Ericka Spradley is the President and Founder of My Next Level. She has many years of leadership experience and her understanding of the multi-faceted leadership realm has provided a level of expertise in human resource management and career growth. Among her significant accomplishments, Ericka has served as Vice President of Professional Development with The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Strayer University Chapter, she was a columnist for Classroom to Cubicle, an online magazine for college students, and she is currently a Yahoo! Contributor columnist. In addition, her works have been found in Today’s Charlotte Woman and she has also been quoted by The Charlotte Observer.