As I understand it, January 17th is National Thank Your Mentor Day. I had no idea that mentors had a powerful enough lobby to merit a holiday, but there you have it. I have a great many people to thank for the position that I’m in right now- both as a professional and as a person- but that’s not what this blog is going to be about. Rather, I’d like to offer some guidance on my experience finding and sustaining mentor relationships.

So many of my friends are in job search mode right now, and it’s a process that can be quite daunting in the absence of someone to guide you through it. Fellow classmates help, but many are in the same position and can’t always provide the experiential advice you might be seeking. If you’re in a graduate program, faculty can help, but they can only provide so much when they’re working with an entire class of graduates. And supervisors can help, but I know that not all students are blessed with such a relationship with their boss. So what to do? Here’s my two cents- and who knows, it may end up being worth even less than that!

Stretch. Mentors don’t always have to serve a solely professional purpose, and they don’t even have to be in the same field as you. Seek the mentorship of someone who goes about their life and their work in a manner that you admire, and seek their counsel. There is a wonderful freedom in talking to someone who has no idea what you do, but is still willing to be there for you 🙂 And who knows? Maybe you could learn from their field and how they operate, and bring their methods into your own work.
A related point here: while a supervisor can be a mentor, that relationship is not an automatic one. If you have a supervisor that is willing to serve in that role for you, that is a wonderfully fortunate thing and you should develop that relationship to the fullest. But if that doesn’t happen for you, it’s okay! Not all supervisor/supervisee relationships will take that tone. And don’t let a lack of mentorship in that role allow you to think you “won’t have a mentor”. Seek that guidance, perspective, and support from other sources.

Make it organic. The word is out on authenticity in networking, and I’d like to apply it here: trying to approach someone from nowhere asking them to be a mentor is inauthentic. When looking for a mentor, take your time establishing a relationship with the person before asking them to mentor you. And once you have a mentor, make sure to not just talk to them when you’re having a problem or need something. Good mentor relationships come from openness, understanding, and a genuine desire to help. Even if the mentorship is arranged or formed in a somewhat inorganic manner, such as #SAgrow, it can grow to be a natural one if you and your mentor work at it.

Be ready to be mentored. That last point brought up an important additional thought: come into a mentor relationship with an attitude that will allow mentorship. Sometimes when you’re being guided, it will mean deviating from the path that you’re already on. Be open to that possibility, be understanding that the shift might not be easy, and be humble enough to know that a mentor may stir you from the idea that you’re right. In the absence of such an attitude, the relationship likely won’t work for either party.

Show gratitude. Everyone likes to be appreciated. And if someone is making you a part of their life with the goal of making you better, be sure to let them know you appreciate it. Even if it’s a simple thank you at the end of a phone conversation or a Skype chat, it doesn’t go unnoticed. 

What other tips do you have on effective mentor relationships? Who do you call a mentor? And have you thanked your mentor today?

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