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What to Look for in a Mentor

Seeking out a mentor is a key way to develop as a professional. Just because someone has been in your field longer than you, doesn’t make him or her a good fit as a mentor. Being thoughtful in whom you ask can mean the difference between a profitable and stimulating relationship, and a waste of time. What are the traits you should look for before approaching someone? Some of the qualities we value most in good mentors are:

  • Expertise. Do they have experience and skills you want to emulate?

  • Openness. Are they willing to listen to what you need or do they just like to talk about themselves and their past? You want someone who is willing to invest in you personally.

  • Wisdom. Fundamental to what we look for in a mentor is someone who has not only knowledge, but wisdom. A deeper, broader perspective on the world and insight into life.

  • Availability. Do they have time to spend with you? While it doesn’t need to be a heavy investment, they should be able to meet regularly and be available for occasional counsel.

  • Generosity. Are they willing to share their experience and connections with you?

  • Honesty. Are they willing to be open about their own mistakes and forthright in their feedback to you.

  • Reputation. Are they respected by those around them? Do others benefit from their influence?

Realize that mentoring someone is a commitment and don’t be discouraged if the first person you approach is unable to or uninterested in being a mentor. In addition to seeking someone to serve as your mentor, consider whether you could mentor someone younger in your field and join the benevolent cycle of giving back.