When it comes to our careers, let’s be honest: we don’t always know best. Despite our efforts, we sometimes feel lost, confused and alone when navigating our professional lives. What we lack in direction, we often make up in Google searches and asking friends. But we may need more than a BuzzFeed article in situations like these–we need to find a mentor to show us the ropes. To find your real-life Mr. Miyagi, you need to be looking for the right qualities.
First, a mentor is someone you will likely be drawn to because they are a source of inspiration for you. It’s essential to think about what you like most about this individual, or what initially drew you to them. How do they lead and interact with others? How do they confront opportunities and difficult situations? These people are more than likely people of action and go-getters. They know how to lift up the people around them, instead of tearing them down. Think about the qualities you admire in them, and make an effort to copy their good example.
Your ideal mentor will also be unselfishly invested in your future. The best mentors have time to dedicate to you and your career. They respond to emails, are open to grabbing coffee and cheerfully connect you to their helpful contacts. Make sure your mentor is actively engaged in your life, so they can properly guide you along the way.
While your mentor should be encouraging, they must also have the ability to be honest with you. Be thankful for this quality, because means they care enough to make sure that you’re not making huge mistakes. If you can look past your emotions and take their feedback objectively, you may learn some valuable information that can save you from having to learn a lesson the hard way.
Your mentor should also have high expectations for you. They won’t accept your procrastination and excuses. You should be be hearing things like, “Have you ever thought of applying for this?” or “I saw this posting and thought of you. You’d be perfect for it!” You should not be allowed to get complacent with your mentor, which will be a huge plus for you personally and professionally.
Once you’ve identified a great mentor, you must remember to be a good mentee. If you ask for an e-introduction, follow up promptly. If you want to grab coffee, be on time and come with questions prepared. There’s nothing worse than asking for assistance, and then not using it when it’s given. Show your mentor you truly appreciate them and the time they dedicate to you.
And lest you think this is a situation only you will profit from, consider that mentorship should be a mutually beneficial relationship. Our passion for our own career can reinvigorate our mentor’s, while their experiences educate us. It’s like old stories of signal fires in the mountains. The sight of one light means another is promptly set ablaze, and the pattern is continued along the chain. Once you’re on fire, you should help set the next one.