How to: Find a mentor

11 Oct 2021Resource

If you are keen to develop and progress your career, reaching out to a mentor could be of great value.

The beauty of a mentor relationship is:

  • It can be long term, to support you in reaching your more stretching career goals
  • As well as extensive experience and knowledge, your mentor may also have the power and influence to open up more doors for you and expand your professional circle
  • You will have someone to provide you with regular constructive feedback and encouragement to keep striving

To unlock all this good stuff however, you have to overcome the first hurdle of finding the right mentor for you. Where do you start?

1. Think about why you want a mentor

First of all, you need to think about what you are looking to achieve from the relationship. Is there a particular skill you wish to develop, a promotion you’re aspiring to, or are you looking for a career change? By being very clear on your goals from the outset, it will not only help you to identify a suitable mentor, but also show the person you approach that you have a professional commitment to the process.

2. Consider some key traits

What are some of the essential qualities you think your mentor needs to have to help you achieve your aims? Do they ideally need to be within your professional unit and, if so, how many pay grades away from your own? Or would it be beneficial for them to be in a different department, especially if you are looking to change roles? Are you looking for a gentle/compassionate approach or would ‘tough love’ be a better fit for what you need right now?

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone when thinking about who could be the best mentor for you: it could, in fact, be just what you need. Picking someone that is exactly like you or a close friend may mean you miss out on the diversity of perspective you need to get you moving. Consider someone of a different age, gender, race and background.

3. Look out for mentor schemes in your place of work

You may find a suitable mentor from within your trust, another trust, other sectors, or someone who is part of a formal leadership program.

If you are working in the NHS you may want look at the following mentor initiatives:

If you work for a private healthcare organisation or charity, be sure to speak to your line manager about any existing mentor schemes (or suggest they set one up if they’re large enough!).

If there is no formal scheme or you already have someone in mind who isn’t part of one, don’t be afraid to ask them. Just be mindful that:

  1. mentoring is not something they will have factored in time for
  2. their mentoring skills may not be as honed as someone with formal training

Whoever you pick, make sure you do your research - check out their professional socials and anything they may have written/published. This will help to confirm if they are the right fit for you and also help with building rapport when you come to meet them.

4. Reaching out

How you approach a potential mentor will vary slightly depending on whether you are already acquainted with them or if they are part of a formal mentor scheme.

The ‘colder’ the relationship, the bigger the ask - potentially. The main thing to consider is how quickly you mention the ‘m’ word. For someone you are less connected with, consider engaging with them on social media first and showing interest in their content, later followed by a PM or email.

If they are already in your professional sphere, you could choose to jump much faster into a face-to-face meeting. Just remember that they are no doubt time-poor (aren’t we all?) and so like any good scout, always be prepared! Be clear on what you want to achieve, what you are asking for from them and how you would like the relationship to work. This will give your potential mentor confidence that the time they are investing in you will lead to your successful progression.

5. Make it official

From the beginning, it is wise to formulate some kind of contract on what you both expect from each other. This is not to say it has to be so rigid as to stint the organic development of your relationship. But at the very least it would be wise to agree on things like your preferred ways to communicate, regularity of meetings, goals and what you expect from each other.

Having put in all this effort, you will hopefully end up with a wonderful mentor who will support your career going forward and who will ideally also benefit from the achievement of watching you grow professionally. And if it doesn’t work out for any reason and the fit doesn’t end up being right, don’t be concerned about ending the mentorship either. This in itself is a learning experience that will make you a stronger co-worker or manager in the long run.

Good luck and get searching!

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