Welcome to Thomas Insights — every day, we publish the latest news and analysis to keep our readers up to date on what’s happening in industry. Sign up here to get the day’s top stories delivered straight to your inbox.
Does the perfect mentor exist?
In Disney’s 1940 film Pinocchio, we get a glimpse of what that could look like when the Blue Fairy appoints the charming and level-headed Jiminy Cricket as the young puppet’s conscience. She defines his role as “lord high keeper of the knowledge of right and wrong, counselor in moments of high temptation, and guide along the straight and narrow path.”
Jiminy Cricket is as humble and loyal as he is entertaining and loving, which is everything you would want in a mentor, right? But as a conscience, Jiminy Cricket’s role demands a level of devotion you would be unlikely to find in your average mentor, and the task of guiding Pinnochio through the cobbled streets of Italy is a rather different challenge to navigating the pressures and stresses of the workplace.
So perhaps the plight of finding a “perfect mentor” is a futile one. But there are some key qualities to consider when weighing up prospective mentors to ensure you find the right fit.
1. Expertise in your chosen career path
What are you looking for in a mentor? If your priority is realizing a specific set of career goals, you will want to find someone who has trodden a similar path before you. They will have advice on what worked and didn’t work for them, the skills you will need to succeed, the qualifications you can acquire, and informed opinions on your next career move.
2. A supportive and empathetic attitude
If you have a great manager supporting you, you might not be dependent on a mentor to help you advance your career.
But a good mentor offers so much more than tailored career advice. They can be a source of comfort or a shoulder to cry on when things get stressful or overwhelming. They will help you make tricky decisions, counsel you on difficult work relationships, and be your biggest cheerleader when you need some motivation.
Look for someone who is truly invested in being a mentor, who wants to be there for you and asks the right questions. Most importantly, it needs to be someone who is willing to listen, and not simply talk at you.
3. A large network
In many cases, you’ll be on the lookout for a mentor who is both more experienced and more senior than you. Not only will they be older and wiser with plenty of useful insights to share, but they will have spent more time building meaningful connections with people in your organization and industry.
If growing your personal network is a top priority, be sure to find yourself a sociable and outgoing mentor—someone who likes to participate in your workplace’s extracurricular activities, who will invite you to interesting events, and introduce you to influential people.
4. A willingness to tell the truth
If your mentor is truly invested in supporting and guiding you, they won’t sugarcoat their feedback and advice. Showering you with praise and validating your choices is the easy way out—it’s low effort and low drama. But you’ll know you have found yourself a keeper when your mentor is willing to call you out on poor decision-making and provide honest constructive criticism.
5. They will push you out of your comfort zone
A mentor is someone you can confide in. They will get to know everything about your workplace relationships, your passions, your dislikes, and your preferred working style.
They will know if you prefer collaborative projects or sitting alone at your desk. You will tell them if you’re worried about leading a project, attending a team-building event, managing a client negotiation, or delivering a presentation.
As nerve-wracking as it might sound, it’s useful to have a mentor who knows your strengths, weaknesses, and biggest pain points. Far from pushing you too hard, they will have all the knowledge to gently nudge you outside of your comfort zone and help you face your biggest workplace fears, one step at a time.
6. They are likable
Likability is subjective, so just make sure that you rate your prospective mentor. Can you imagine spending time with them, and genuinely enjoying yourself? Are you on the same wavelength? Will you feel comfortable sharing your concerns with them?
Finding someone high-powered and influential to be your mentor is tempting, but you won’t reap any of the benefits of mentoring if you’re intimidated by their prowess or they are too busy to give you the time you need.
Some organizations assign mentors to their junior employees at random. If this is the case, and you feel it’s not working out, don’t be afraid to raise your concerns and ask for a new mentor. The most important thing is that you actively benefit from the program.
Image Credit: Wocintechchat.com