How Do I Find a Career Mentor?

“I need to improve my life.”

This thought is one that all of us have from time to time. In the early months of each year, when we are all considering New Year’s resolutions and ways to improve ourselves, this thought is particularly common.

One way to improve your life that you might be considering is getting a new job. To want a better job and to get a better job, however, are two very different things. In this article, we’ll look at how finding a career mentor can help you to get a better job in 2015.

What Is a Career Mentor?

A career mentor is not necessarily a business or life coach whom you pay to give you good advice. The best mentor is someone who works in the field you’re already in or someone who works in a field you want to be in one day. Getting a mentor can be as simple as turning to someone with more experience in your workplace that you admire and asking them for help.

Overcoming the Fear of Asking for Help

Finding someone to mentor you as you grow within your career should not be a difficult or complicated process. The hardest part in getting a mentor is often asking for a mentor’s help in the first place.

Interestingly, many people love to give their advice for free when they are asked for it. When people ask others for their advice, the person who’s being asked often feels flattered that someone would turn to him or her with questions. Because the individual feels the respect and the admiration of the person asking the question, the prospective mentor is often glad to help. Almost everyone has a natural instinct to want to help other people.

Ironically, however, while almost all of us love being asked for our advice or our help, almost none of us actually like asking someone else for help. Fear of being rejected or judged stops us from asking. Additionally, asking for help or advice sometimes makes us feel like we are weak or incompetent, or makes us fear that we will be perceived that way by others. Therefore, it is more often our own fear of asking than a prospective mentor’s reluctance that stops us from getting the advice that we need for furthering our career.

How to Find the Right Mentor

When trying to determine who the right mentor is for you, start by researching the field you are in or the field you want to be in down the road. Learn “who’s who” within that field. Who are the most important players? Who has a particular specialty that you’re interested in learning more about? Who is most admired by their colleagues? Before making “the ask,” it’s important to find out the answers to these questions.

Once you know who you ideally want to learn from, start to form a relationship with him or her. Don’t be a “brown-noser,” but make an effort to get to know him and strike up an acquaintanceship with him. You don’t necessarily have to ask them, “Will you be my mentor?” Instead, just start to ask the questions you have in a natural way in the course of conversation over lunch or coffee. If the other person is receptive and helpful, you can continue to build a relationship with him over time.

Your Best Mentor Might Be Yourself

Robert Greene is the author of the book Mastery, which looks at the lives at some of the most successful masters in science, music, sports, the military and more. In it, Greene asks a simple question: “What leads a master to mastery?” One of his conclusions is that a master is someone who begins as a humble apprentice. From Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein, Greene explains how some of the most famous masters in history started off by creating for themselves a self-designed apprenticeship, in which they willingly spent time either learning from others or teaching themselves basic principles that would become the foundation for later greatness. They didn’t enroll in formal mentorship programs; they decided what they wanted to learn and set about finding the people, places and things that would be able to teach them.

Benjamin Franklin, for example, eschewed following his father’s footsteps into the candle-making business to work with his older brother in a printer’s shop. While at the printer’s shop, the young Franklin had the opportunity to read all of the newest ideas in politics and philosophy. His mentors became the writers whose works he was charged with proofreading.

Everyone Learns from Someone

Whether your mentors are found within library shelves or in your office’s break room, keep in mind that finding a method for furthering your education is a necessary part of both personal and career growth. In your quest to improve your life and your career in the upcoming year, start by asking yourself the same questions Franklin, Darwin and Einstein asked themselves: “What do I need to learn? Where or from whom can I learn it?” Once you’ve found an answer to that question, you are ready to seek out the mentors who will help you achieve your dreams.