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Tips for Finding and Learning From a Career Mentor

March 11, 2024

by Monette Anderson, CAE

Have you wondered whether a mentor would be a good fit at this point in your career? Have you earnestly been waiting for the Dumbledore to your Harry Potter to emerge from the shadows? Is a mentor really all that valuable, anyway?

There has been a surge of headlines lately around corporate mentoring programs, especially as they relate to women and minorities in the work place. Increasingly, large corporations are implementing their own mentor programs due to research that shows a correlation with job satisfaction and morale. If your company offers a mentor program, jump on board and try to get as much out of it as you can.

Mentors assigned through a formal program are valuable connections for young professionals, especially when those programs aim to pair new professionals with senior staff. However, most research agrees that organic mentor relationships are the most powerful tool in a young professional’s arsenal with benefits that include skill refinement, goal setting, honest (and safe) feedback, access to a larger network, and guidance in solving professional conundrums.

Below are some tips to set you up for identifying a strong mentor fit, and suggestions to help develop a strong rapport.

Identify a Mentor

Find someone you admire. Usually we admire people who embody values we possess. It might be helpful to identify your core values. Your values are where you focus your time, money and mental energy. It naturally follows that finding someone with similar priorities will yield a strong relationship.

A good mentor might possess the following qualities: open, friendly, willing to share information, passionate, has work/life balance (and therefore time to advise you), and has a proven record of success in the area you want to improve.

Take some advice from former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Search for role models you can look up to and people who take an interest in your career. But here’s an important warning: You don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting. Most of my mentors have been old white men, because they were the ones who dominated my field.”

Continue to focus on your own goals while you are working on finding a mentor, it might just get you noticed. Let your passion for your work, and your career, shine through. Focus that passion by getting involved in projects or discussions that will increase your value and visibility.

Getting to Mentorship

Play it cool. Don’t be too quick to put the mentor label on the relationship. Ask for an informational interview and follow up with coffee, or respond to their posts on LinkedIn and ask thoughtful questions or comment to keep the relationship moving forward. You can ask them to get together periodically for career advice or to pick their brain. You wouldn’t likely propose on a first date, so why expect an early commitment from a possible mentor?

Consider playing the field; you can have more than one mentor. Different professionals will have different strengths from which you can lean on. Being able to reach out to different individuals can also help reduce the time commitment you’re asking for from busy professionals.

When you are ready to put a label on it, be specific in telling them what you are looking for and why you think they are the best person to help. Take some time to identify your goals and have an outline of your plan ahead of time so you have a better idea of what you are asking for.

When you do establish mentorship, remember the responsibility is on the mentee to set the agenda and keep meetings going. Show them that you are dedicated to putting in the effort to make it a success. It’s not their job to follow up with you.

Do not make it all about you, show you can listen and ask thought-provoking questions. Find ways to make them feel valued and appreciated. Expressions of in-kind gratitude, like offering to volunteer for a charity event they’re involved in or remembering important holidays and birthdays will go a long way in developing a mentor…and a friend.

While you are searching for a mentor, utilize peer relationships. Peer mentoring can still be valuable to provide feedback and maintain goals. Keep each other accountable! Whether you are both seeking high-level mentors or working towards other goals (such as passing the CPA exam), make sure to check in regularly so you can set goals and offer each other support.

A Closing Thought on Where to Find Your Mentor

Keep in mind, a mentor doesn’t always have to work in the same company, or even the same industry as you. Check your LinkedIn network, especially through your members-only WSCPA group to see if you can identify a few possible matches. You can also utilize your alumni resources. Attend an event or join a committee that interests you and you’re bound to find others with similar interests. You may even find your mentor at the next WSCPA networking event!

Monette Anderson, CAE, is WSCPA Vice President of Membership and Education and Executive Director of the Washington CPA Foundation. You can contact Monette by email.