You need a mentor now; here’s how to get one

This is a piece I wrote for the new leadership section at Forbes.com.

Of course a good education and talent are keys to building a successful career, but for most people, school is over and the parameters of their talent were set on the day they were born. So what can you do now to get ahead? Get a mentor. In fact, get a stable of mentors for guidance on multiple aspects of your career.

“Executives who have had mentors have earned more money at a younger age,” writes Gerard Roche, senior chairman at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Additionally, his research shows “those who have had mentors are happier with their career progress and derive greater pleasure from their work.” The majority of executives had mentors in their first five years of their career.

But finding a mentor is not easy. For a lucky few, mentors can be found through a privileged network of relatives, family friends or your parents' business associates. For everyone else, the search requires patience, a clear focus and the self-confidence to be a nudge. “Not everyone can depend on nepotism,” says Alisyn Camerota, New York-based correspondent for Fox News. “I got where I am by turning reluctant people into active mentors.”

The easiest way to create allies is to build a reputation as an overachiever. That's what Camerota did during an internship early on in her career at a Washington, D.C. —based news bureau. After earning the respect of her boss throughout the summer, she came to rely on her for advice and support. Eventually Camerota felt empowered enough to walk into her office and say, “My internship ends in a week and I don’t have a job. Can I have all your contacts?” She said yes. Camerota copied the whole Rolodex onto a legal pad by hand and cold called the contacts until someone agreed to interview her. Those calls later led to a full-time job.

Mentors aren't just important for those starting out. They're essential to rising through the ranks, too. “Obtaining a mentor is an important career development experience for individuals. Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within the organization (i.e., get promoted more quickly and earn higher salaries), and report more job and career satisfaction,” says Lillian Eby, professor of applied psychology at the University of Georgia.

As Camerota's career progressed, she realized her main goal was to be a broadcast journalist. More specifically, she wanted to be in front of the camera. But for two years, she was stuck behind the scenes for America’s Most Wanted. That changed when Lance Heflin, the shows executive producer, became her mentor.

Camerota’s tactic of working hard and asking specific questions made Heflin aware that she was coach-able and focused on her career, attributes that attract the best sort of mentor. So by the time Camerota asked Heflin to help her get on-camera, he told her that if she was willing to do the work, he would help.

Camerota spent the next six months making terrible tapes. Heflin’s coaching started with her appearance: “Do not wear green ever again. Do you ever see people wearing green on TV?” Then he moved to more nuanced tips: “Treat the camera like it’s your friend,” he told her. And he showed her a tape from a broadcaster he liked, walking through a house as he talked to the camera, making the audience feel like they were right there with him.

The duo went through countless such show and tell sessions. And every now and then, Heflin would say, “Stop. Rewind.” And he’d go back to where Camerota smiled at someone or looked at the camera and raised an eyebrow. “That’s where you threw a nickel through the screen,” Which was his way of saying, “Something came alive here.” You can’t ask for advice like that. You have to inspire it.

Camerota’s hard work and raw talent earned her an outstanding mentor who devoted a large amount of time and energy to showing her how to become a television reporter. Keep your eyes open for someone who loves to help people grow.

There are more of those people than you’d think and they may need you, too. “Both mentors and protégés report benefiting from mentoring relationships,” writes Eby. Make your move now. Test the waters with a few people who seem like they might be good mentors. Ask specific questions, and heed the advice. You might find you get more than you asked for.

Posted in Managing up, Mentoring, No image
20 comments on “You need a mentor now; here’s how to get one
  1. Ben Casnocha says:

    Good thoughts here.

    Two points to add.

    1. Right about the two way street. Mentors give and get from the relationship…just like many school teachers say they learn a ton from their students.

    2. There’s a difference btwn mentors and advisors. I think about advisors as specific to my business. “Mentors” connotes a broader relationship, including personal matters.

  2. Åsa says:

    Penelope: I've been reading some of your posts and they are so insightful and useful! Appears to me like you would be a good mentor yourself.

    I'll keep reading.

  3. Nicole Bond says:

    Well i dont have anything “insigntful” to say or add. my question may even seem silly.
    but iv been wondering if there is a mentoring program that offers fashion design that i could attend without being a college grad or attending college. if anyone has as information please email me it would be extremely helpful.

    * * * * *

    Hi, Nicole. I don’t know an official mentoring program in that industry. But I know that if you contact a potential mentor with specific questions, that person is likely to help you. The questions should show that you have direction and vision for yourself and they should be questions that are not open-ended but can elicit specific, brief answers. By doing this routine a few times with the same person over a few months, you can establish a mentor relationship.

    If it doesn’t work the first time, don’t be discouraged. Just try again.

    Good luck!
    -Penelope

  4. some girl says:

    well, i really don’t see how to “get” a mentor in this article. you talk of why its good to have one, and how some people progressed due to having a mentor. but you don’t talk specifics about how to get a mentor, apart from one point of being an overachiever. i would have expected better articulation for a piece that was actually part of a leadership section on Forbes.

  5. some girl says:

    like, what’s in it for the mentor?

  6. some girl says:

    ok, joke’s on me. i shoulda read other blog entries first before being abrasive!

  7. dollie johnson says:

    Hello,

    would like to know how can I find a mentor in my state(Rhode Island)that can guide me into starting up a modeling agency for children.

    Thank you

  8. Larry Brauner says:

    Penelope,

    I’m a new reader and enjoying your posts.

    I agree that a mentor can accelerate our growth and progress.

    Lately I’ve been thinking that mastermind groups might be very powerful as well. Not only do they present an opportunity for brainstorming with and mentoring by our peers, they also add accountability into the mix.

    I wonder what you think.

    • rebecca goldman says:

      hello i need help getting a mentor i need one that will help me with fighting and defending and stragitys for that stuff and i need him to be very helpful and have like give zen life lessons and crap when you ask questions and well could he atleast be cute please i alsso would like him to be in the state of north carolina specifically havelock and i need to catch up on all of the fighting stuff and so i need lessons for this before school and after school my school starts at sunset and thats my day so yeah but im up sometimes during the day so yeah i would like to have a guy mentor with kinda long brown hair brown eyes and well lots of expirence and needs to be awake when he teaches me well i have to go im late for a class yikes im in trouble kirova is going to bite my head off

  9. Gafar Basil says:

    Hello,
    I would like to know how i can find a mentor in my state of Florida, I AM living IN ORLANDO and would like to change carrier i am currently working in the construction field.
    Right now there is no work so i went and took classes for Accredited claims Adjuster and obtained my license so with no experience in this field i would like to find someone that can guide me.

  10. Kathleen says:

    How coincidental I find this comment:

    but iv been wondering if there is a mentoring program that offers fashion design that i could attend without being a college grad or attending college. if anyone has as information please email me it would be extremely helpful.

    …because I’m in the fashion industry helping start ups and have written several times about how to find mentors since I do a lot of that. You’re right, it’s enjoyable. The most recent entry I wrote on the topic is called How to find help in the apparel industry for nearly nothing. The problem with finding a mentor is you are equal to your five closest friends. Think about that for a minute. Consider:

    Are your five friends successful designers in the business? Or are they just like you, stuck at the starting gate? It's fantasy to believe you'll get lucky meeting the right people while stuck in an elevator. In real life, you can easily find and make friends with people who are most like what you want to be or who are at the point where you want to be for nearly nothing.

    Having connections is not an accident; anyone can acquire them as a matter of intent -chance favors the prepared. That means you'll have to join their turf, people most able to help you aren't hanging out in free forums or message boards because they are [also] looking for people who are at their level or above it -not below it [to solve their own problems]. There are a few garment industry forums out there but because these are public and anyone can join, no one posts proprietary information so there's no useful give and take. The paradox is that because they are public, they stagnate and fail to grow. There's very good reasons why people with proprietary information don't post in public and it has nothing to do with selfishness or fears of competition… The difference between you and people you want to be like is that they have already figured out that they won't find what they're looking for wherever it is you've been looking.

    The truth is, those in a position to mentor you, are also hoping to be mentored themselves. Like attracts like, you have to hang in their turf. If you go through the hurdles of joining them, you’re already a level above the 95% of the crowd and others will take an interest in you because you’ve taken an interest and done the due diligence to join them.

    • Melissa says:

      Kathleen & Penelope together in one comment thread! You two are my favorite dispensers of wisdom and I appreciate all the honesty, heart, and generosity of your respective blogs.

      Can we look forward to any collaborations? (A long shot, I know, considering that this comment is over 3.5 years old)

  11. Dylan Rodrigues says:

    WomensMentorship.com allows you to search for mentors for free in all career fields. It is for women only and also has mentorship resources based on your career focus area.

  12. mentor_the_youth says:

    Lets mentor the youth…Follow my blog and pass it on to the next generation that really needs it!

    wordscanhelp.blogspot.com

  13. Skyla McGrady says:

    All I have to say is I realy need someone to talk to in these times of need!!!!!

  14. Skyla McGrady says:

    These day people are so cruel…… what has the world come to!!!!! SOMETIMES I WONDER……WHY!!!!lol:)

  15. TAY BRIGHT says:

    . i need someone who can support me to achieve my goals

  16. Sedona Cole says:

    Great insight. Loved the part about executives, with mentors to thank for higher earnings. How true! However, not all people need to work through a list of relatives, or elite circles to find a great coach. I found http://www.ftrnation.com, who specialize in coaching and mentoring programs. The results their students have achieved are nothing short of impressive. I think people can leverage multiple sources of support, and should not just rely on waiting for the right person, when they can start right away. Great article and interesting angle into the topic!

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