Finding a Mentor Who Is Right for You

two federal employees

Most service members and veterans understand the importance of having a mentor in their corner. Mentors can provide honest feedback and give mentees the tools they need to work toward their goals, whether they involve being promoted to a higher rank, transitioning to a civilian career or even earning an MBA degree.

Millennials are particularly interested in building these relationships, with two-thirds of Millennials recently surveyed by the Corporate Executive Board, a management consulting company, reporting that they want a mentor.

But even when the benefits of a mentorship are clear, not many service members and veterans understand exactly how to go about finding a mentor, or even which qualities are valuable in one. Keep reading to learn the most important do's and don'ts of finding the right mentor for you.

Rethink the Traditional Mentoring Relationship

When most people think of a mentor, they picture someone who's several steps ahead of them on the professional ladder. This type of relationship is popular and valuable, but it's not the only type of mentorship out there.

Many organizations also set up reverse mentorships, in which a younger professional shares expertise with a more seasoned individual, perhaps regarding new technology or social media practices.

There's also value in group mentoring (in which one professional mentors several people) and peer mentoring -- in which several individuals learn from one another. Service members and veterans who are interested in these types of mentoring structures should seek them out through their employers or professional or military organizations.

Fill in the Skills You Lack

It's natural for colleagues with similar strengths and interests to find common ground and develop relationships. While it's important to relate to a mentor, a mentee can truly expand their skill sets and knowledge base by connecting with a mentor who shines in areas that they struggle to master.

Savvy mentees will approach mentoring with the strategy of building a team of mentors and a goal of having each mentor address a different gap in their abilities.

Don't Approach a Stranger

While it might seem like a great idea to seek out a mentor who you've admired from afar, these types of relationships are often destined for failure. Mentees who seek out big-name mentors will frequently be turned down, because the person they approach has a packed schedule and receives similar requests on a regular basis.

Even if a professional agrees to help a mentee they don't know all that well, the arrangement is less likely to be successful due to a lack of familiarity with the mentee's goals, strengths and unique struggles.

Match Your Values

Mentors and mentees can still make excellent pairings when they work in different branches, departments or even different industries, as long as they share similar values. Everyone has a slightly different definition of success, and if a mentor and mentee have sharply contrasting ideas of what makes someone successful, they'll have a harder time exchanging meaningful guidance.

For example, if a mentee's primary goal is to attain the highest-earning position and the mentor's professional goal has always been to enact the most positive change in the world, they'll struggle to find common ground and move forward.

The process of finding a mentor can be daunting, so many mentees are simply glad to have someone fill that role -- even if that person isn't an ideal fit. By being discerning and reaching out to potential mentors with the right qualities, you're more likely to enjoy an effective mentoring relationship that's beneficial and rewarding for everyone involved.

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