Many workers today find themselves in pretty good jobs, but they can’t seem to get ahead in the workplace. They might be skilled in certain areas, but they just can’t figure out how to take it to the next level. This is where having a mentor can come in handy.

Mentors can be a great resource when navigating challenges and a new environment in your career. First, they can be very inspiring. They know what it takes to succeed in the business because they’ve already done it. They can open doors for you, as they have contacts that you don’t. They can also be excellent sounding boards.

Women have been second guessed in the workplace for decades and that can lead to women second guessing themselves. Having a mentor means you have someone you can talk to about obstacles in your path. A mentor can offer you perspective, guidance, and encouragement, as needed. Mentors can also be helpful when you need to make critical decisions or take necessary risks.

So, how do you find a mentor?

Don’t Limit Your Options

Too many women believe that their mentor needs to be a woman, or needs to be someone in the same profession or company. It’s natural to think that, yes, someone who is in a similar position or situation will understand where you’re coming from more easily. However, limiting yourself to this small group of people is not actually wise. You may want someone who has a different outlook and can help you to see the bigger picture.

If you’re dealing with a lot of men on your team or as clients, wouldn’t you want the benefit of getting a male perspective on things? Also, don’t assume your mentor needs to be very senior or much more experienced than you. All they need to be is more proficient or experienced in specific ways. Your mentor could be anyone who is able to provide insight in an area that you are interested in developing and learning about.

Know What You Need

Identify your needs and find someone who will meet those needs. This means that you can actually have different mentors in different areas. For example, if you’re trying to work on communication skills, who’s in the best position to help you with that? If what you’re seeking is advice on how to manage a family life with your career, you want someone who has gone through that situation. Everyone has different skills and experience that you can tap into. Learn to leverage your own “human resources” effectively.

Remember that mentoring relationships require effort

One of the biggest challenges to establishing a mentorship is commitment and time. Some would-be mentors can have the best of intentions, but they could be too busy to provide you with the guidance that you need. Remember that they’re busy because they’re successful, and they could be helping other people as well. Just because they’re your only mentor doesn’t mean that you’re their only mentee!

Make sure that your prospective mentor knows what you’re looking for. Tell them how often you’d like to meet and for how long, and confirm that they can fit you into their current schedule. You may even want to meet with them a couple of times to see if they’re both a good fit and reliable.

If you can, show them that it won’t just be a one-way relationship. In my own experience, I’ve offered to be a sounding board for my mentor who was leading a training program for new analysts by giving her my thoughts and ideas about the presentations she was preparing. Finally, let them know you’ll be prepared with questions and discussion topics to ensure you’ll be making the most of the time they are going to be setting aside for you.

Although a mentor isn’t necessarily the “silver bullet” of success, they can be remarkably helpful in aiding you to get ahead. The best mentors are people that you not only want to learn from, but also want to spend time with. Developing a strong relationship with your mentor can pay dividends down the line. Don’t feel discouraged if you’re having trouble finding one. Keep trying, keep talking, and you’ll find the person who can help you.

Images © The Zoe Report