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Four Things You Should Know Be­fore Search­ing for a Men­tor

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A men­tor can shift your mind­set and open new worlds of con­nec­tions and pos­si­bil­i­ties. But how do you change gears from ad­mir­ing some­one to work­ing one-on-one? What should the re­la­tion­ship look like? Con­sider the fol­low­ing be­fore you start your quest for guid­ance.

Get clear on what you need.

Many peo­ple use the word “men­tor” in­ter­change­ably with “role model” or “coach.” A men­tor should have ex­pe­ri­ence in your field and work with you, one-on-one, with­out charging a fee. If you need help with a spe­cific prob­lem, like or­ga­niz­ing your time, then a coach might be a bet­ter fit. If you’re sim­ply search­ing for in­spi­ra­tion, study a role model in­stead.

Make the ask. Be clear from the out­set. Ask your po­ten­tial men­tor how much time they can devote to you — will you meet once a week? Once a month? Will you work to­gether for three months, six months, a year? What would you like to learn from your men­tor? Set­ting ex­pec­ta­tions and bound­aries up front will give the re­la­tion­ship a frame­work and a dead­line; with­out them, the re­la­tion­ship can lose value over time.

Do the work. Don’t abuse the re­la­tion­ship by wast­ing time or fail­ing to ex­e­cute on what is asked of you. Do your home­work and be pre­pared when you show up for your ap­point­ments. Re­mem­ber: Your men­tor can help you only as much as you are will­ing to help your­self.

Know when to move on.

If you or your men­tor are meet­ing out of habit, or if you’re putting the work in but feel like you’re not get­ting much out of it, then it’s time to move on. Stray­ing into the friend zone is also a red flag — this is a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship, not a per­sonal one, and keep­ing the two sep­a­rate will help you stay on track.

Your re­la­tion­ship with your men­tor should be chal­leng­ing, re­ward­ing, and eye-open­ing. Ap­proach it thought­fully and you’ll reap the ben­e­fits — and maybe even learn lessons you can pass on to a mentee some­day.

Mar­garet Page has founded sev­eral spe­cial­ized com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Be­yond the Page Coach­ing, Eti­quette Page and Page the Coach. mar­garet@mar­garet­page.com

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Mar­garet Page

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