How to find a good mentorChen Wan Lim
There is nothing better than having someone, preferably someone close with us to guide us, to provide sound advice and to open doors for us when we are in uncharted territories. Be it in the office, or in the classroom, having a good mentor can make the difference between having an okay career or a great career. Similarly, it is advisable for postgraduate candidates to have mentors to advice on them a multitude of things such as research methods, recommended reading materials, problem solving ideas and even study advice. According to a research conducted by Schlosser, Knox, Moskovitz and Hill 2003, students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels report that mentoring helped them develop skills and behaviours necessary to succeed professionally. But how do candidates look for mentors that fit the bill? While there is no one perfect solution out there, candidates can increase their chances of getting a great mentor by following these tips.
How to ask someone to be your mentor:
1. General identification
First things first, you would need to identify a person which fits most of the characteristics you seek in a mentor. These characteristics will be: (i) knowledgeable in the field you are in; (ii) willingness to impart knowledge onto others; (iii) willingness to share resources with you such as professional contacts and; (iv) someone whom you think you can leverage on to climb up higher in the field you are in. For a postgraduate candidate, a mentor should have two main basic characteristics which are: (i) have experience pursuing a postgraduate degree and possess a postgraduate degree i.e. MBA, MSc, PhD and; (ii) a recognised leader in the field you are in or seeking to be in.
There is no guarantee that your ideal candidate for a mentor would agree to take you under their wings – But there is no harm trying. Try asking your intended candidate if he or she is willing to be your mentor. Make your purpose and expectations clear – tell them what you would expect out of them. At this stage, it is unlikely that you can offer anything of significance in return; hence it would be out of their own goodwill to accept you as their ward.
What are the things must you expect from a mentor? These are some expectations you must have and convey to your candidate:
(i) To teach the ropes of the game and what to look out for when pursuing an MBA or when transitioning into a new field;
(ii) Introduce you to people that might help you in your career or help you to succeed in your MBA;
(iii) Be willing to give personal advice on how to juggle between a full-time day job, a family and night classes;
(iv) How to be a good manager after transitioning from a technical role to a managerial role;
(v) Do not expect an easy 1-2-3 step-by-step advice on how to reach your goals but rather, expect advice on how to navigate through to find the right direction to reach your goals and;
(vi) Not to be on-call 24/7 but rather to have mutual boundaries on communication.
Tips for selecting a mentor
1. Not a photocopy of yourself
When selecting a mentor, try identifying someone who is not a photocopy of yourself – otherwise, it would defeat the purpose of having a mentor in the first place. Select someone who has a different perspective and who can show you how to attempt to solve problems from a different angle using unconventional methods. In addition, a mentor who has a different perspective from you might even reveal issues which you would have normally overlooked.
2. Do not limit yourself to just one mentor
No one person knows everything. If you are a postgraduate candidate pursuing an MBA specialising in information technology, try identifying two or more mentors. The first mentor could be a senior who had just recently completed a two-year MBA programme while the second mentor could be a senior manager with an information technology service provider. This way, you will be able to tap into the minds of two knowledgeable people.
3. A person with a wide network
Today’s business world is all about networking and who you know. Select someone whom you think has a wide network and is able to connect you through to people upon which can help you progress in your career. A mentor can be good in their particular field of vocation and may be highly knowledgeable, but they might not necessarily have sufficient industry connections to get you connected. A simple way of identifying whether your potential mentor has good industry relationships is by asking around if he’s well known within the field of their expertise.
In essence, candidates need to be aware that having a mentor will not give you all the answers and mentors might not even be able to correctly direct you to the right answer all the time. However, mentors should be viewed as a senior person who is willing to listen to your issues and to try to steer you to seek for a solution. A mentor also serves to encourage you to persevere and to push on until your goal is achieved. Also remember that a mentor-mentee relationship is two ways. As such, remember to pay the favour forward and to be a mentor to the next generation.