Professional mentors are invaluable to have at any stage in your career. The bulk of what mentors can provide is experience and knowledge from that experience. They’ve been in your shoes, they know how you feel, and they are willing to share their experiences with you. They can be a support system in your career, offering advice, knowledge, inspiration, networking and job opportunities.

But how do you find and keep a mentor?




Find someone you admire.

You don’t have to look high and low to find someone inspiring; they don’t have to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or the businesswoman with five kids and two start-ups under her belt. Look around at those closest to you. Look at those directly above you. Who do you work with? Have you met someone and thought, “Wow, they really have it together”? Ask yourself what you could improve on in your own career and find someone who has already been down that path or has that skill you’re seeking to learn. Try going to networking events in your areas of expertise.




Strike up a conversation.

People like to socialize. They also like to talk about themselves. Start with a simple “Hi”; a greeting is all it takes it start the conversation. Ask them out for a cup of coffee, or out to lunch; tell them you’d love to hear about how they got where the are. Get them talking. Ask what school they went to, what their first job was, where they see themselves in the future. It may be awkward or intimidating to put yourself out there, but the benefits are more than worth it in the long run. No one thinks you’re ask awkward as you think you are. You have nothing to lose over asking someone to lunch; the worst they can say is no. If they do say no, try for a different day or week, it could just have to do with a hectic schedule or looming deadline ahead of them.

No one thinks you’re as awkward as you think you are; be confident and introduce yourself.




Maintain the relationship.

A mentorship doesn’t have to be formal, but it doesn’t hurt to tell them your intentions. Ask to set up a reoccurring time to meet and talk. It doesn’t have to be every week, but preferably every month, at least for the first few times. If you don’t think it needs to be a formal agreement, just keep in contact, continue asking them out for lunch every once and awhile. Emails and phone calls are also great ways to keep in touch. If something comes up, feel free to contact them and simply ask them their opinion or for advice.

Be sure to thank them for their time and to let them know how appreciative you are for their help and guidance. They want to know they’re making a difference. Let them know of any work achievements or successes that come your way. Also, be sure to ask them about their lives! A mentorship can be a two-way street, they could want advice from you as well.




Return the Favor.

Once you realize how important a mentor can truly be, be one for someone else. Once you’re at the point in your career where you realize you have knowledge that could help someone who’s in a position you once were in, offer yourself as a mentor (or maybe you don’t realize it yet, but I bet they do!). If there’s a team member in your office, or around an event you’re at, who maybe looks a little lost, say hi, let them know you see them. Ask about them, get them talking. It can definitely be intimidating to be alone in a room where everyone else seems to know each other. Let them know you’re there if they ever have any questions. It can be entirely rewarding to offer your expertise in hopes of lifting someone else up in their own career.