Professional development is not something that can be checked off a list.
Development is more like a journey, one without a goal, target, or end result. It’s a continuous process, during which you can seek feedback to grow and improve, even change course in your career.
There are many ways to receive feedback; a valuable source is through mentorship. Mentors are people who’ve experienced and faced similar situations, and have learned valuable lessons which they can pass onto you. To learn more about mentorship, we asked two experts to share their insights: Mika Trottier, a program manager leading the Partner Education Team at Shopify; and Eric McRae, the founder of My ByWard Office, a co-working space that helps entrepreneurs grow their business.
They shared how to find a mentor, who to look for, and how to build a successful relationship. It’s important to remember that there is no single formula, and that mentorship varies from person-to-person.
For Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s COO, a successful mentor relationship means real commitment.
You may have advisors or people you look up to like role models but to me a mentor is something very different. Mentors are people who are committed to spending dedicated time with you over the long term and engaging in your personal growth. Essentially your mentors need to be invested in you and your success.
“You may have advisors or people you look up to like role models but to me a mentor is something very different. Mentors are people who are committed to spending dedicated time with you over the long term and engaging in your personal growth. Essentially your mentors need to be invested in you and your success," Harley explains.
Ultimately, you’ll need to find a method that works best for you.
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How to find a mentor
Connections can be made with people from all around the world, however, it’s easier to start with proximity.
Within your organization
Don’t overlook your peers. Organizations are filled with talented people in different disciplines and at different levels. Their unbiased feedback on your projects or performance can help you gain more self-awareness. You’re then better able to identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the areas in need of improvement.
Within your city
Scope out your city for companies and employees who are in positions or fields you’re interested in. LinkedIn is a great tool that helps you narrow down your search based on the filters you select. When you’re ready to reach out, aim for a coffee chat since in-person connections are more powerful than calls.
At conferences and meetups
Conferences are opportunities to network with speakers and industry leaders who you would not otherwise run into. Listening to talks gives you a good sense of a speaker’s background and perspective. When a talk resonates with you, find the speaker and ask them follow-up questions. Showing genuine interest is key to having organic conversations.
After the conference, make sure to follow-up with them and let them know how much you enjoyed your conversation. Include follow-up questions and when the time feels right, ask to set up a call where you can dive deeper, get to know them better, and ask for their advice.
Conferences also offer workshops or one-on-one sessions with coaches. By signing up, you’re guaranteeing uninterrupted time with someone. Again, ask lots of questions, and come prepared if you can in order to make the most out of your time together.
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Through formal programs
Programs like Everwise connect you with mentors, peer groups, advisors, and community members. A more formal process like this one has many benefits, for example, expectations between the mentee and mentor are made clear from the get-go.
Now that we’ve explored where to find mentors, let’s dive into what to look for.
What to look for in a mentor
To know what to look for in a mentor, start by being clear on what you want. Evaluate yourself and start understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and domain. Evaluation helps you build a picture of where you stand currently, and where you want to go — in other words, your goals. Mentors can help you close the gap between you and your goals, but only if you can clearly articulate them.
“Mentors are busy, so you need to be focused and get to the point,” Eric says.
Once you have a better understanding of yourself, start looking for people with:
1. Domain expertise
When exploring a domain, Eric McRae suggests creating a list of questions you’re looking to have answered. Look for subject-matter experts who can answer and fast-track your development since their years of experience empowers them to make connections in your work that you can’t see yet.
For example, if you’re a founder hiring a team for the first time, it might be a good idea to seek someone who has years of experience in talent acquisition.
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2. Career trajectory
One of the principles of mentorship is seeking a mentor who hasn’t forgotten what it was like to be in your shoes. For example, someone who is ten years ahead in their career might not be as valuable as a mentor whose only five years ahead and remembers how they learned.
The reason being, someone who remembers how they learned can more easily share tactical advice. “There is something to be said about someone who is at the next step of where you want to get,” Mika says.
Finally, compatibility and rapport with your mentor is very important. It’s not just about the position, it’s about the person. Anyone can be a mentor, even people outside of your profession, simply because you get along well and learn a lot from how they frame their thinking.
As we wrap up this section, keep in mind that a mentor’s job is not to solve all of your problems. Their job is to be a guiding voice.
How to set up for success
As you go through all these steps, work to shift your mindset from “I need something” to “I want to learn.” A learner’s mindset pushes you to ask more questions and show genuine interest.
Don’t approach someone expecting them to become your mentor, finding a mentor is a little bit like dating.
If you think you’re setting up your wedding from your first date, you’re coming at it the wrong way.
“If you think you’re setting up your wedding from your first date, you’re coming at it the wrong way,” Mika says .
A first encounter or meeting with someone is similar. Don’t go into it expecting a sure thing, treat it as a time of discovery. You might need to meet five to six different people, before deciding to follow-up with someone.
Set clear expectations
If you’ve been setting up recurring calls with someone, it might be time to let them know what you’re looking for by being upfront. Articulating your situation helps the other person know what kind of advice to give. Otherwise, if you keep communicating vaguely, you will keep receiving vague advice.
Set clear expectations around the frequency of your calls and the format which they will follow.
You might also like: 8 Time Management Tips for Freelancers.
Give and take
A relationship is built on give and take. A mentor might ask you to do some research or read a book, it’s important for you to do the work on your side. You can create reciprocity by sending them links to articles they might find helpful as well.
Don’t expect miracles, do the work to show you’re eager and willing to learn.
Seeking diversity of thought through mentorship helps you gain unbiased perspective on your work and development. There’s no limit on the number of mentors that you can have. Different people can help you grow in different aspects of your life, whether it’s project management, confidence, or any other area you seek to improve.
Have you had mentors in the past? Share your experience in the comments below!