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People often ask us- “how do I choose the best mentor for me?” This question is broad, but understandable. There are multiple metrics that contribute to a successful partnership. Experience is important, but is it more helpful to have years of experience or a certain type? Maybe it’s easiest to collaborate with a colleague who shares a similar communication style, but would it make a bigger impact to absorb attributes from someone who operates a little differently?

Set developmental goals

The best way to get started is by setting your developmental goals. Jot down some notes:

What are your career aspirations?
Where do you want to be in five years?
What will it take to get there?

Pull your story together as a pitch that you can lay out quickly. For example, “I would eventually like to be a supervisory IT specialist, so I am working toward a technical detail. I enrolled in this program to hone new technical skills that will help me get there.”
Identify your ideal mentor

Think about the capabilities or functional background your mentor should possess. Consider whether you are looking to stay in your area or bridge into a new career field. Weigh the merits of seeking specialized experience versus a rich and varied organizational background. Forbes Magazine ( pointed out that it doesn’t always matter how many years of experience they have, its more about whether their knowledge and expertise is going to be helpful to you in the job you’re doing or the job you hope to get. Identify a mentor who will push you outside of your comfort zone and who is willing to give honest, candid feedback.

Create a list of potential mentors

Once you’ve prepared your pitch and identified the characteristics of your ideal mentor, create a list of potential candidates. Research your candidates’ backgrounds. You might even solicit advice from an outside source like your supervisor or people in your professional network. Try to collect information from articles the mentor may have written or explore their contributions to highly visible projects. NPR reminds mentees to “recognize the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.” The purpose of a mentor is to give you guidance and impart their own experience, not to get you a promotion or a raise.

Arrange Meetings with your Top Two or Three Choices

Organize a list of five potential mentors and arrange meetings with your top two or three choices. The purpose of these meetings is to explore the possibility of establishing a partnership. When speaking with each candidate, find out as much as you can about their accomplishments and character. Partnering with someone who shares some personal commonalities- such as charity work or raising children- can make relationship-building easier too.

Ask guided questions about the mentor’s background such as:

How did you get to where you are today?
What factors and skills have made a difference in your career?
What have you found to be the secrets to your success in this organization?

Then be prepared to share some information about your background, accomplishments, and areas in need of improvement. Be honest and forthcoming as a good mentor will also be evaluating you to see if the match will reap worthwhile benefits.
Prepare as if you were going to a job interview. Lean in and give it your all. Be warm and enthusiastic so that the mentor has an idea of what it would be like to work with you.

Prepare for “The Close” with Your Elevator Speech

An advantage of using an elevator pitch when speaking about your career or aspirations is that you can show you are capable of taking the lead. Instead of waiting on the other party to direct the conversation, and potentially away from what you would like to discuss, you can assertively explain what you need and have to offer.

Communicate your interests in being mentored by this person.
Share your expectations of the mentoring partnership.
Estimate how much time you plan to commit to the partnership.
Explain why their talents suit your developmental needs.

Once you have narrowed down your mentoring choice, e-mail a message to the mentor expressing (or reaffirming) your interest. Be prepared for the possibility that your potential mentor will not be able to accept so that you can respond with grace and professionalism despite the initial disappointment. Likewise, if you find after speaking that the mentor is not right for you, be prepared to communicate that directly and respectfully.

Identifying and selecting the right mentor is both critical to the success of the mentoring partnership and a challenging task. Doing your homework ahead of time will ensure the process moves smoothly for you.

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