Monday, February 23, 2015

3 Things to Consider When Seeking a Mentor

By Nicolette Johnson
Associate Director of
Graduate Career Services
By Nicolette Johnson

If you're starting your journey into a new career or joining a new organization, you’ll likely think about finding a mentor. Here are three things to consider in your search:

1. Don’t rush. 

Stop and take a breath. Mentors can offer helpful advice and career know-how, but there’s no need to rush to find a mentor. Instead, seek advice from a variety of people and let those mentoring relationships grow on their own.

Taking it slow will also give you time to understand the organization and who the best potential mentor matches may be. Then, once you’ve found someone you admire and connect with, you can, as necessary, build the relationship into a more formal mentoring relationship.

2. Know the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.  

A mentor gives you career advice, shares lessons they've learned, provides feedback, and serves as a sounding board for your ideas. A sponsor is often a high level person who champions you and helps open doors for you. Ideally, you want both.

During my career, I’ve had mentors who gave great advice, and I've had sponsors from whom I got little advice and in some cases didn’t know very well. They gave me visibility, like inviting me on the corporate jet to get to know other executives, and ultimately they helped me get promotions.

Like mentoring, sponsorship can grow organically, too. To catch the eye of a sponsor, be sure to perform well, take on visible assignments (and yes—sometimes the ones no one else wants), and align yourself with people who both like you and have a sponsor’s ear.

3. Be sure to offer something. 

Like any relationship, you will need to provide some give and take. Be sure that you provide those with whom you have mentoring or sponsoring relationships with something of value.

You can give them useful information, articles, or even ground-level word-on-the-street insight.

Most importantly, make sure you perform well. The last thing a sponsor or mentor wants is to endorse you and you perform badly. He or she will view that as a bad reflection on them, likely distancing themselves from you, at best, as a result.

Nicolette Johnson is the Associate Director of Graduate Career Services at the Kelley School of Business. Nicolette and her team meet and coach hundreds of students, alumni, and corporate partners on tried and true recruiting methods, interviewing tactics, and career management strategies, while staying in tune to how these areas are changing and evolving. Email Nicolette at

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