Finding a Mentor

If Slim Shady is a role model of yours, then I would suggest you read this article carefully. If your current teacher constantly belittles you, calls you names, treats you like an untrained Labradoodle and spends half their time ranting about things that annoy them instead of teaching, then this article is also for you. Does your current teacher dress you up in bright green shorts and make you spend your nights fighting crime? Well then suck it up, because that means Batman is your mentor and therefore you win at life- minus the whole tragic past thing. For the rest of us, this article can help us find someone that can give us a competitive edge in school, work and life as well.

So how do we go about finding this said guide? Some people have it easier than others. Athletes tend to lean toward a coach they grow fond of. I know some students in college find a professor they easily connect with. A supervisor or coworker at work is also an option. There are many great and successful mentoring programs such as College Bound Opportunities, that create opportunities for students  to get the help they need.  Most colleges and universities have programs that students can enroll in to be matched up with a mentor.

If you are at a large school, I would be cautious towards these programs for two reasons. I believe the process of picking a mentor should be done by your standards. After all, we are talking about forming a personal and close relationship and you want it to fit both parties. While these programs serve a function, and some are really good at it, it seems that being matched with someone takes that control away from you and therefore you miss out on a crucial foundation of the relationship. They are an option though, and like I said, some schools have excellent programs. I would do my research- asking alumni is your best option- and see if your university mentoring program is worth taking a look at before diving in.

The second reason has to deal with the personal contact between the mentor and the ‘mentee’. If your school has a hundred students enrolled in the same program, then your mentor’s time is going to be split with a hundred different people. While a lot of mentors have more than one student, you want them to know you almost as much as you know yourself. That can get difficult if they have to know a hundred students on that level. Again, some are very good at handling the pressure of a several dozen students. Some are not. I am not saying avoid and dismiss them. I’m only suggesting that you heed some words of caution from your friendly neighborhood blogger.

“OK then Chris, if you’re such an expert, how do I find one then? All you’ve done so far is tell me how to avoid them.” I gotta stop breaking the fourth wall like this, it’s getting predictable. If it seems like I’m sending mixed messages, that is not my intention. All I am trying to do is provide two sides to a coin that could very well impact a student’s life in large ways. Choosing a mentor is not something to be taken lightly and a decision should be made with the utmost care and consideration.  I’ll do my best to list some great deciding factors for college students and those starting to enter the work place who are looking for that one great mentor.

  • Ask yourself the question “what do you want from the mentor?” Career advice? Life counseling? Help with school? Make sure you know the basic goal of this particular partnership. You know that dreaded conversation with your significant other about “where is this relationship going?” That question should already be in the back of your mind BEFORE you approach a potential mentor.
  • Find a person in that area you can communicate and exchange ideas with freely. Develop that one-on-one relationship with common knowledge and skills you can expand on. This can help you with your overall goal and greatly increases the chance of your mentor actually teaching you.
  • Make it personal, not formal. Avoid the direct “will you be my mentor?” approach. Instead, simply ask for advice. Then listen to what they have to offer. Keep the communication going and show you are willing to learn from them.
  •  Be open to being a teacher yourself. You may not know it, but mentors have mentors of their own. In a direct partnership such as this, teaching is a two-way street and learning goes both ways. Mentoring should be a mutually beneficial partnership.
  • Keeping it fun makes the process easier for everybody. Otherwise it turns into work you’re not paid for. Your mentor should be someone who looks forward to teaching just as much as you are looking forward to learning. Again, this flows two ways.

It never hurts to have someone at your side giving you encouragement, teaching and generally promoting you. Mentors do not have to necessarily be someone higher up or older than you, what matters is if the person has knowledge and experience on their side they can provide.

Questions? Ideas or suggestions? Follow me on twitter @ChrisComella or email me at ccomella@sparkhire.com

IMAGE: Courtesy of Scrubs Wiki