When you hear about someone looking for a mentor, you probably think about young people seeking an older and wiser, senior person to show them the ropes. Today, the definition of mentorship includes people at all ages and experience levels; mentors aren't just for twenty-somethings anymore.
If you're in your 40s, can a mentor help you? University of Georgia professor of industrial-organizational psychology, Lillian Eby, Ph.D, noted, "Obtaining a mentor is an important career development experience for individuals.... Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within the organization, and report more job and career satisfaction."
No matter your age, it can't hurt to find someone who will encourage and you in your professional goals, help build your confidence, remind you what you're good at and suggest ways for you to improve.
How can you find a mentor in mid-career? Unlike young interns, fresh out of school, you'll probably need to do a little more work to identify the right mentor for you. Follow these tips to get on the right path to a positive mentoring relationship:
1. Identify your goals and mentoring needs.
You don't want to be the "lost soul" seeking guidance and direction. At this stage of your career, you'll want to narrow down your targets and decide what you want next. Until you wrap your mind about your goals, it will be difficult to identify a mentor who can successfully help you accomplish them.
2. Know what you offer.
You should know a thing or two about what you offer. A mentoring relationship should be mutually productive, or even reciprocal. You have something to offer a mentor in return for his or her ideas; make sure to solidify this in your mind before you seek someone to partner with you.
3. Create a plan.
Before you ask someone to meet with you on a regular basis, plan out some discussion topics. While people tend to enjoy talking about themselves and sharing their own expertise, be sure to make it clear you envision the meetings and relationship will be a two-way street, with each party learning and contributing.
4. Don't limit yourself to mentors inside your organization.
While it would be great to learn from a mentor in your workplace, consider working with someone who is outside the four walls of your office. Be sure to cast a wide net for your ideal mentor. Try to find someone who will energize you with ideas and be able to help you realize your own potential. Don't forget to check with your alumni association. Sometimes colleges and universities have formal mentoring programs, and you may be able to sign up to be matched with a suitable contact.
5. Recognize that mentors come in all ages.
When you identify topics where you need mentoring, you may realize that you will benefit from a mentoring relationship with someone younger than you. This type of mentorship has become very common. The Wall Street Journal reported that companies institute programs to pair their more senior workers with younger employees who understand "technology, social media and the latest workplace trends." Spending time with younger workers may be just the thing to help energize you with new viewpoints and new skills.
6. Ramp up your networking.
If finding a mentor isn't a slam dunk, be sure to increase your networking efforts, both in person and online. If you haven't been attending professional meetings or mixers, now is the time to start. If you've been thinking of volunteering for a cause you believe in, get started! These opportunities to meet people in person could expand your pool of potential mentors.
However, don't forget virtual networking is a great way to meet new people, too. Consider jumping into social networking if you haven't already done so. You may be surprised by how generous your networking contacts who don't even know you in person can be when it comes to providing support, encouragement and mentoring. With Skype and online technology, your mentor can be halfway around the world, or in your own neighborhood.
Remember, we are all busy. If you want to work with someone, you need to follow up. It's up to you to keep in touch, schedule (or re-schedule) meetings and make times to touch base to discuss topics of interest to both mentor and mentee.
7. Give back.
Look for opportunities to serve as a mentor to other people. It's a great way to continue to learn and grow, and it is always nice to take a leadership role and to help someone else succeed.
8. Be appreciative.
While most people who agree to advise you and boost your career are not looking for trinkets or gifts, it can't hurt to consider donating to your mentor's favorite charity, sponsoring him or her if he's raising money for a cause, or agreeing to volunteer with him or her at a charitable event. Most people will appreciate these gestures.