Building a career after graduation is an exciting time in your life, but it can also feel overwhelming. As you navigate your new career path in a way that aligns with your aspirations, seeking the guidance of a mentor who’s been down that road before you can be invaluable. A good mentor has experienced many of the professional challenges you have yet to face, and can impart wisdom to help you attain your career goals.
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A mentor is someone with whom you’ve built a professional relationship who acts as a trusted advisor through your career. As a seasoned professional with more experience than you, a mentor helps you navigate the job market and provides support to help you achieve your professional goals.
A mentor usually has experience or knowledge in your chosen field, but this isn’t always necessary. You can learn valuable skills from mentors across various professions and industries, especially if your focus is to build interpersonal skills and other transferable skills, rather than just technical skills.
Mentorships are not typically goal-based. This means you don’t enter a mentoring relationship hoping to learn something specific. Instead, you go in hoping to learn whatever the mentor can teach you. As a recent graduate, a good mentor can help you build soft or hard skills, open their network to you, or guide you on successfully navigating your job search.
A mentorship lasts over a long period (often many years and even decades) and has no specific termination. As your mentor’s career expands, you can continue to learn from their growing experience and expertise, and apply it to your own professional trajectory. Mentorships can last an entire career as long as both of you continue to benefit from the relationship.
Coaching, on the other hand, focuses on meeting short-term professional goals, such as building a life skill or improving performance in a particular field. Once the required goal is fulfilled, the relationship is usually terminated. Hiring a coach typically involves paying a fee, as well. A mentor does not charge for time spent with you.
As a new graduate, joining the workforce can bring excitement, confusion, and even fear. The path to achieving your professional goals may appear long and uncertain when you’ve just landed an entry-level role. It can be hugely beneficial to know someone who has already reached that career pinnacle you dream of (or is much closer to getting there), and can provide first-hand knowledge on what it takes to get there. A mentor can help you build your career by providing invaluable knowledge and support, including:
Boost morale: Receive ongoing professional support to boost your self-confidence as you traverse the ups and downs of your budding career. As you come up against challenges in your early career, they can provide advice and anecdotes about how to address and overcome them, from their own experience.
How do you know if a mentor is right for you? A basic prerequisite should be that your mentor has more professional experience than you and has already achieved some of the goals you aspire to. A good mentor is also willing to invest time in getting to know you, listening to your professional goals and challenges, and is personally invested in helping you succeed. Some important traits that a good mentor should possess include: knowledge, empathy, active listening skills, adaptability, honesty, positive outlook, a strong network, and the ability to provide constructive criticism.
There may be additional qualities you look for in a mentor based on your unique work-based challenges. For example, if you’re a woman pursuing a career in a field that’s traditionally male-dominated, you may prefer a female mentor who has already overcome the perceived barriers in your chosen industry.
Since mentorship is a two-way relationship that requires equal commitment from both of you, identifying someone who has the qualities you admire is just the first step in finding a mentor. You also need to ensure that they are as eager to provide you guidance as you are to receive it. To begin your search, it’s important to clarify what you want to learn from your mentor.
Where do you want to be in your career a year from now? Five years from now? What is your dream job? What accomplishments do you hope to achieve? Once you’ve pinpointed what you want in a mentor, you’ll be better prepared to find the right person.
The best place to start your search is in your own network—alumni from your school, colleagues or managers at your part-time jobs, on LinkedIn, even among friends and family. You can also attend networking events and join industry or professional associations to expose yourself to as many potential mentors as possible. If you’ve started working, you may find someone at your company you admire with whom you’ve built a rapport. For some, a mentor-mentee relationship develops naturally, but you may find you need to be more proactive in establishing and building one.
After you’ve reviewed your network and considered your options, create a shortlist of five or six potential mentors.
How you ask someone to be your mentor will depend on the relationship you already have with that person. If you already receive helpful advice from someone you admire, asking that person to be your mentor may be a natural next step. However, if you don’t already have an existing relationship, here are some tips on how to ask someone to be your mentor:
Having a mentor can be a wonderful experience both personally and professionally. It’s important that your mentor also finds the time spent together is worthwhile and fulfilling. Keep these tips in mind to help ensure your mentor-mentee relationship stays positive and mutually-beneficial over the long-term.
It’s important to keep your meetings to the planned time frame out of respect for your mentor’s time. Having a clear agenda prepared in advance can help. If there are certain topics you’d like to cover in upcoming meetings, consider letting your mentor know ahead of time. This allows the mentor to prepare, if necessary, or even let you know if that’s something outside of their expertise. If you hope to connect with your mentor’s network, don’t assume you’ll automatically be introduced to every person you want. Always ask your mentor to make an introduction and explain why you would benefit from each connection, such as if it relates to a job you’re applying for.
If you ask questions, be prepared to listen intently to your mentor’s answers. Show interest in what is said even if it’s not what you may have expected. You don’t have to necessarily follow your mentor’s advice, but keep an open mind and give it thoughtful consideration. Remember, they have more professional experience than you, but depending on how long they’ve been in the workforce, their way of doing things may or may not be ideal in the current environment.
The key to building a good relationship is staying in touch. Try to meet at least once a month as you establish your connection with additional touch points via email, text, and social media. Once you’re more settled in your career, you may wish to reduce the frequency to quarterly or less.
Mentorship relationships aren’t one-sided. Your mentor wants to find value in the relationship as well. When you take your mentor’s advice, be sure to follow up with how it turned out. Share your accomplishments, especially when they relate to the knowledge provided by your mentor. Think of unique ways in which you can provide value to your mentor: share new resources and connections, or explain the latest technical skills that seasoned professionals may not have learned during their training or education.
Thank you notes are important, but think of ways to go above and beyond. During your meetings, let your mentor know the tremendous value you receive through the relationship. Other unique ideas include sharing and commenting on posts by your mentor on LinkedIn, telling others how much you appreciate your mentor, and maybe even sending a gift card for a “real coffee” as a thank you.
As a recent graduate, the transition from school to work life isn’t an easy one to make. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone. Sign up for Prepped for valuable career and job search tips and access to our AI Interviewer and ATS Resume Scanner.