by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

On the road to success, there are very few “Lewis and Clark” situations any more. Like geography, there aren’t many professional frontiers where you will find yourself treading in uncharted territory. For most if not all of your journey, there are others who have gone before you who can help you navigate the tricky parts…if you’re willing to ask them.

Finding the right mentor can be one of the most important professional decisions anyone can make. That’s especially true for remote workers who can feel pretty alone and isolated to begin with. Finding a mentor to guide you not only reduces that sense of isolation, but offers you the opportunity to learn from their experience.

The difference between a coach and a mentor

First, let’s define exactly what a mentor is. He/she is NOT a coach. Both mentors and coaches can be people you report to within your organization, or they can be people from the outside. Coaches, however, tend to be more focused on performance-related issues. The relationship dynamic with a coach also tends to be more transactional. The coach is either a direct superior or is hired to help improve a specific area.

Mentors, on the other hand, have a more holistic focus and the relational dynamic tends to be focused on the long-term rather than short-term gains. Mentees may offer gifts or show their appreciation to their mentors, but by and large, it’s not a “for-hire” relationship.

So how then should you go about finding the right mentor for your professional career? Here are some guidelines to follow to help you enter into a satisfying and rewarding relationship.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

Fear of asking (or being rejected?) is the biggest reason people don’t have mentors. Keep in mind most people consider it an honor to be asked to be a mentor. The individual may or may not have the time to commit or feel like it’s a good fit, but no one is going to be offended if you ask them to be your mentor. For some tips on how to ask someone to be a mentor, check out this video from Kevin Eikenberry.

Know what you want to accomplish.

As we mentioned, mentoring is a more broad-based relationship than coaching. Even so, as a mentee, you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish from this relationship. Is your mentor someone who is only going to help you improve a certain skillset? Or is this a person you hope can help you move in a positive professional direction (e.g. learning a new industry or moving into a management role). Knowing what you hope to achieve will help you select the right person and ensure your time together is productive.

Find the right fit.

Not every mentor has the same approach, and not every mentee has the same needs. This is where some honest self-reflection is in order. Are you someone who needs a “kick in the pants” or a “pat on the back”? Pick a mentor who’s willing and able to provide what you need.

You should also find someone who understands how you communicate. It might be a good idea to match up based on DISC personality styles.

Respect your mentor’s time.

As I mentioned above, mentoring is generally a volunteer role. As such, the mentee needs to be cognizant of the time the mentor is committing. That’s why it’s important to have a focused idea of what you want to accomplish. It’s also considered good form to cover any ancillary expenses your mentor might incur while your meeting. If you’re meeting face to face, is their parking, or are you meeting for coffee? If you’re meeting remotely, is there any cost for the platform you’re using? In short, your mentor is already freely offering his/her time and experience. Don’t make this something they’ll grow to regard as too big of a sacrifice.

Finding the right mentor or coach is an important pursuit. Here are some things you should consider as you make this important decision for your career development.

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