Luke Skywalker had Yoda, Eliza Doolittle had Henry Higgins and the karate kid had Mr. Miyagi.
As Hollywood has so aptly taught, everything from battling your father-gone-Sith-lord to mastering martial arts requires a good mentor. And your career is no exception – as you navigate the stormy seas of corporate America, “benefit from a good mentor, you can.”
The best mentors are wise, helpful and invested in their mentee’s success. They can help you gain a clearer vision of your career goals and, more importantly, give you direction in achieving them. Having a mentor will allow you to draw on the wisdom that comes with experience and gain insight into your industry. In short, a good mentor can you get on the fast track to success one “wax on, wax off” at a time.
Choose a Mentor
You might be tempted to ask the highest-paid, most powerful person you can think of to be your mentor, but that could be a mistake. The best mentors can relate to you, help you work through challenges and give you advice on how to best proceed. Look for a mentor who has overcome the obstacles you are facing. Maybe you are a female in a predominately male industry, or perhaps your degree isn’t directly related to your field. Find someone who understands, then do all you can to learn from their experience.
Ask the Right Questions
If someone is willing to give their time to help you succeed, be respectful. Make sure their time is well spent. Prepare questions for each meeting, and put thought into them. Avoid questions that have obvious answers or that are too big for a short conversation. For example, “How should I respond when clients invite me to parties?” might be more helpful than “How do you interact with clients?”
Be a Friend
You can meet and ask questions all you want, but the strength of the mentoring relationship is in the friendship. Get to know your mentor outside work. Does he like to run? Does she have children? Is he a Red Sox fan? Does she follow the stock market? Find things to talk about that aren’t work-related. This will make the relationship more enjoyable and build rapport that will help other conversations feel more natural.
Make it Happen
It’s up to you to make the mentoring relationship fruitful. After your meetings, review your notes or jot down a few things that made a lot of sense to you. Find ways to implement your mentor’s advice and turn them into specific tasks. Make the most the relationship by taking action. You just might find that they have a lot to offer and can really help you meet your career goals.
Learning from a mentor in the workplace might not be as exciting as light saber training or as exotic as practicing elocution in Victorian England, but it will help you meet the demands of your career with the coordination and grace of any Hollywood hero. You probably already have all the resources you need to be successful, and the best one might be right down the hall.