What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone who is willing to provide you with advice and guidance based on his/her experience. Mentors invest time, talent, and expertise in helping you achieve your goals. Generally, the mentor receives no pay beyond the satisfaction of helping you to learn and grow as an individual.
Why would you want or need a mentor?
People with mentors are more likely to find themselves on the fast track to employment or advancement. Think about it…
- Networking is the quickest way to make new connections that might open new doors for you. A mentor has relationships and connections that can make opportunities available to you. By making introductions, they can add credibility to your name and the value you bring.
- A mentor can give you candid, real-time feedback on how you are coming across in person and on paper and can help you sharpen your skills and leverage your strengths.
- A mentor who works in the industry or field you are considering can provide you with personal insights you cannot acquire through research alone.
- A mentor can help you think though what is most important about a particular situation or opportunity so that you are well prepared to ask or answer the right questions.
- A mentor can be a valuable sounding board to help you examine options, scenarios, and pathways that can make a difference between sinking and sailing in your career. They can offer you encouragement and guidance during your career hunt and launch.
How do you get a mentor?
Simply put, you ask. But first, you need to know what you want from a mentor to identify the right person to ask.
- Think about your existing network - your friends, family, university contacts, and community contacts. And think about the expertise or experience do you want your mentor to have. Who meets your criteria for a mentor?
- Mentoring is a reciprocal relationship, so be prepared to invest in the relationship with your mentor and provide him/her with a compelling reason to mentor you. What will you bring to the relationship? How can you repay that mentor in non-monetary ways? What type of time will you need them to invest?
- Read this article, How to Find a Mentor, for additional guidance.
What should you ask of a mentor?
There are a lot of things you can ask your mentor, so here are a few ideas for questions to get you started.
- How did you get to where you are now? What was your career path like?
- What do you like and dislike about the industry?
- What should I know before making this career choice?
- What is a typical day on the job like?
- What sacrifices will I need to make to excel?
- What are the insights or biggest lessons you have learned?
- Looking back on your choices, what would you do differently?
- Can I shadow you or a colleague at your organization?
- Is there something valuable I can offer you in return for your help?
Complete the table below to identify potential mentors who might be a good fit to and who might invest time, energy and guidance in your future.
If you do not have someone in your existing network, you can check out these sites for formal mentor matching opportunities.
Questions to Ask
How is a sponsor different from a mentor?
Whereas a mentor will provide you with advice, a sponsor is someone who will use his/her power and influence to be your advocate. A sponsor may provide funds, vital connections, or create an activity or project where you can develop your skills and exhibit your strengths.
Why would you want a sponsor?
Sponsors can be people from your network who can use their influence to make a temporary post or project opportunity to be granted to you - either by funding the project, funding your role in the project, or using their influence to help you gain access. Unlike the mentor, they are more removed from your personal development and may or may not have subject matter expertise in your field of interest.
For example: Your major is special needs education, and you want to do a project over the summer that will build your skills and your resume while doing something you are passionate about. You come up with the idea of offering a sports-focused morning camp for kids with special needs, but you obviously cannot fund it. Your neighbor owns a chain of grocery stores that occasionally sponsors community activities. He would benefit from doing something good in the community. He would clearly be a good person to approach with a well-developed plan for your morning camp. If you can also line up a mentor who has subject matter expertise with camps, special needs, or community efforts, you will increase your odds of getting funded.
Sponsors may pave the way, but it is up to you to make it work. Having both mentors and sponsors increases your chance of attracting career opportunities and capitalizing on them. Before looking for a sponsor, be certain you have a clear idea of what you will ask for.
Use the questions below can to help you brainstorm different projects you might need a sponsor for. .
- What would you like to find a sponsor for?
- What is the business plan or compelling reason for your idea? Can you concisely articulate this? Who do you know that might provide sponsorship for you?
- Who do you know that knows someone else who might be a sponsor for you?
Fill out this chart to keep track of ideas for projects that might need sponsorship and potential sponsors you have identified for each.