Dear Career Angel: How can I find a mentor?

Penny Davenport, Management Today's Career Angel, has this advice for an ambitious executive looking to find a mentor.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Dear Career Angel,

I think I need a mentor. Anyone who is anyone seems to have one. I definitely need help to navigate my firm to get promoted. We don’t have a mentoring scheme. What should I do? Do I want a male or female mentor?

Cara, London

Dear Cara,


Yes, mentoring remains a hot topic and that’s because the data seems to back up the widely-held belief that mentors can be very helpful with career development. 75% of executives point to mentoring as playing a key role in their careers; and 44% of CEO's list mentoring programs as one of the three most effective strategies to enhance women's advancement into senior management.

Managerial productivity increased by 88% when mentoring was involved, versus only a 24% increase with training alone; 71% of Fortune 500 companies use mentoring to assure learning occurs in their organizations. (Source:  Management Mentors 2012).

Whether your firm has a mentoring programme or not, the very best mentor / mentee relationships are natural, two-way and long-term. Whether your mentor is male or female is not particularly relevant as long as you have a good relationship with someone you trust and upon whose guidance you can rely.

In the absence of an official programme, identify a person in your firm that you admire, aspire to be like and can relate to. I would look for someone a couple of levels ahead of you, and about seven to 10 years older. Approach them graciously and ask if they might have the time to help you. Set some expectations such as you would like to have lunch once a  month to catch up, and to call on them on an ad-hoc basis to advise on any situations which arise.

Use the 'OK / not OK' principle to allow them the possibility of opting out. For example, 'Would it be OK if we had lunch once a month?' You’ll be amazed how asking if something 'is ok?', gives people the option to say no with ease. Split the costs of lunch, or offer to buy coffee. Don’t assume they will treat you just because they are more senior.

Listen a lot during your meetings and ask great questions. If the process goes well, you could raise the idea of a formal programme with your HR department but as I say, I have always found the best relationships to be natural and not prescribed.

Finally, I would suggest to all the great mentors out there that the mentor /mentee relationship is a two-way process and you stand to learn an awful lot from those you mentor, not least the chance to keep in touch with the younger tribe in the firm, and their feedback.

Penny Davenport is Management Today’s Career Angel. She is a business coach and personal career mentor with 20 years experience.  You can follow her on Twitter: @DavenportPenny

To submit your question to the Career Angel, email us here

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