For some time I’ve always felt there was value in having a mentor. Though over the course of my life I’ve seldom setup a formal mentor, though looking back I supposed I could nearly consider many people such a person. Rather than just stress the value of having a mentor I’d like to look at the value such a relationship can provide. Whether you get those pieces of value in a formal mentor situation or just through dinner with people the key is to grow.

1. Find someone to learn from

The obvious first step you should take is to get face time with those that are more experienced and have done it before. This is usually something that younger people that have not been out of school long steer away from approaching those with experience. Perhaps its intimidation, perhaps its that you feel they don’t think it would be worth their time. But from my personal experience I’m normally more than happy to help anyone that asks, and likewise anytime I’ve asked someone I’ve gotten positive results. This is usually as simple as can we get dinner/lunch/coffee sometime?

It should be pretty obvious who you may want to spend this time with. If it’s not then start simply take a boss, teacher, or some manager/supervisor in a lateral department.

2. Articulate the input you want

In unusual cases you may have someone that just naturally helps people grow.  But it’s usually hard to get guidance and direction on the areas you want without articulating that those are the areas you care about. Even if you’ve got the right person, they need to know how they can help, if they don’t know this you’re chances of it being effective are almost non-existent.

There’s a couple of ways to go about this, the first is to simply say ‘I’m looking for someone to mentor me in areas, x, y, z’. Or you could more simply have some idea of the areas you want more feedback on, and in these cases it may make most sense to get more direct answers to what you are seeking. Each has their benefits with the former you may get new insights that you had never considered. Whereas with the latter you are guaranteed to get some form of answer you are looking for.

For a tangible example, if you were considering a new job. The former question might give an answer of career path options, but no insight into whether you should accept the new job. The latter might give you a direct answer on their opinion of if the new job is a worthwhile venture, but is likely to make you less self sufficient in steering you’re own career. Both have their time and place and should be equally balanced.

3. Engage in the conversation

If you simple sit back and take notes after answering a question, then you’re no different than a freshman student sitting in a lecture class. Half the value of a mentoring relationship is the relationship, it’s not just about soaking up information, it’s about the relationship you build. If you want straightforward how-tos go read a book. The value in the relationship works on both sides, it’s a rewarding experience to mentor someone and see them grow. So engage with the person you’re looking for guidance from, they’re normally more quick to offer support in areas outside strictly advice in these cases.