Cheat Sheet to Finding the Perfect Mentor—For School or Career Success

By the SMU Social Media Team

What do Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Indra Nooyi all have in common?

They’re all incredibly successful and influential, and all admit they had a helping hand along the way from one, or several, mentors.  It can be tough to do it alone, particularly when you’re just starting out in your career, building a business, or embarking on a programme of study. And so, pretty much everyone recognises the need for a mentor, but finding one who’s right for you can be tricky.

So, here are 5 steps to help you find the perfect match:


1. Know your goals 

Stop! Don’t even think about approaching a mentor before you’re clear on what your goals are. Your first question to your mentor should not be “what do you think I should be doing?” Your mentor’s time is precious, so don’t waste it on rudimentary questions. The key to a fruitful and mutually fulfilling mentor-mentee relationship is to have some clear, short- and medium-term goals (three, five and ten year) established at the outset.


2. Be Prepared to Commit Time and Effort

Even the most qualified mentor in the world will be unable to help if you aren’t committed to doing your research, asking the right questions and, most importantly, making time to listen. Equally, the mentor you select needs to be someone who can devote regular blocks of time for mentoring, and is invested in helping with your professional development.


3. Make a List of Potential Mentor Candidates

Thinking about the people you admire is a good starting point. Think also about someone who can help you reach your goals and you would want to spend time with—this will make it easier to tackle any challenges along the way as you manage your mentoring relationship.  Remember, your time is valuable too so it’s vital your mentor prospect has the experience you’re looking for—someone in the same industry may have a better understanding of career concerns. Equally, someone from outside with a leadership philosophy you aspire to can help provide a fresh perspective.


4. The Approach

When you’ve settled on the most suitable candidate, it’s time to start doing your homework. Take the same approach as you would for a job interview—take a look at your potential mentor’s blog, LinkedIn profile and published articles; think about his or her responsibilities and interests, and take some time to anticipate questions and concerns.  Most importantly, you need to be able to explain to your mentor how he or she can help you to achieve your career goals.  Now you’re ready to make your approach—via a succinct email is best in the first instance. A referral from a mutual friend or contact can work wonders here too, to establish a connection.


5. Invest In the Relationship

Once you’ve landed your dream mentor, it’s important to nurture the relationship so expectations are met on both sides. Create a realistic monthly or quarterly meeting schedule and establish clear objectives.  As the mentee it’s you who should drive the schedule and discussion topics—so create an agenda for each session which encompasses your key challenge or opportunity, your own thoughts on strategy and next steps, and where specifically you are looking for your mentor’s input and guidance.



So now you’re all set. Remember that having a mentor is about taking a holistic approach to your career and not a short-term fix for minor issues. Approach the relationship strategically and there is no reason why it won’t be a long and productive one.

And who knows, once you’ve established one successful relationship with a mentor, you may want to consider finding another and having several who can help you with different areas of your professional development as your career progresses.


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