Attracting a Great Mentor: You Can Do It!

April 7, 2014

be assertive and find a great mentor who will help you take on more responsibility

Do you want to take on more responsibility at work? Be assertive and find yourself a mentor who can help you transition into a leadership role.

Has your career been helped by a set of informal great mentors, accomplished people who believed in you and provided you with valuable and practical guidance, helped you extend your network and encouraged you to pursue your dreams? If not, why do you suppose you have not attracted people who could help you to advance?

Lots of people have been successful in getting the support of informal mentors, and their approaches are neither secret nor difficult. You can learn these strategies and make them work for you whatever your field and whatever your goals. All you need to do is first take a few minutes to reflect on your assumptions about getting help from others.

Do you assume that asking for help is unprofessional, wimpy, beneath you, too scary? If you make these assumptions, you are limiting your options greatly! Don’t be afraid to be assertive.

Next consider your style for relating to people who are more senior in your field than you. Do you feel uncomfortable around them, feel inadequate talking with them, or do you even avoid them? If you respond like this, you are limiting your options greatly!

Think about a specific person whom you know or have heard about who could teach you something important or introduce you to others who could advance your career in some way. It could be a friend, a family member, a colleague or someone whom you admire but do not know personally. Are you too modest to approach? Do you assume that this person is too busy or that you are not important enough to ask for help? Are you intimidated by the possibility that she or he might brush you off? Or think you are being pushy or inappropriate. Does any of this sound familiar and stop you from reaching out?

In other words, do a little self-assessment about what currently is stopping you from getting the active attention, time, and support of people who could help your career advance. If you recognize that any of these “stoppers” are keeping you from being proactive on your own behalf, pause and consider the findings of focused interviews with 24 successful people in many fields who proactively sought and received valuable informal mentoring from others.

Here are the top three strategies described in “Attracting Great Mentors. Seven Strategies to Cultivate”

  1. Develop your radar for a mentor. Scan each “room” you enter for the most interesting person present and then introduce yourself. Like in the popular movie, “When Harry Met Sally,” look for someone about whom you could say, “I want what she/he’s having.”  Be optimistically courageous and proactive — ask a question about their work and really listen. Ask for their help.
  2. Demonstrate a Passion for Learning. Become known for being genuinely curious and taking initiative. Let people see you taking the risk of being a learner – it is rare and impressive when people are willing to reveal their limitations and open themselves to learning from others. Identify some project or task that would benefit your organization and ask for the opportunity to take it on or to attend a workshop to learn something new.
  3. Be appreciative. Don’t miss opportunities to thank people who invest in you and your career. Surprise them with a hand-written note! Thank-yous can go a long way to building relationships and reputation.

So make a commitment to yourself and try some or all of these approaches. Don’t wait for someone to discover you; identify whom you want to be your mentor, reach out to them and ask for their support – and make the relationship work for you both.  The right great mentor for you will get great satisfaction from helping your career if you do your part.

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About The Author

Judy Vogel is President of Vogel/Glaser & Associates, Inc, that supports bold leadership for a changing world. We partner with clients to customize organization change initiatives including reorganization, fostering productivity and innovation, and developing cultures that engage staff to perform with excellence. Judy also specializes in helping HR professionals become effective internal business partners. She co-authored The Handbook for Strategic HR and has published many articles on leadership, communications, HR and organization change.


  1. avatar

    Laurie, How right you are! We have the choice to go after the big fish role wherever we are. It does take initiative and courage. One interesting finding from my interviews is that the mentors expressed appreciation for being sought-after by ambitious people — if, and it is a big “if,” they handle their approach with interpersonal skill. Thanks for responding!

  2. avatar

    Great little article, Judy. Punchy, to the point, with excellent advice giving. I liked especially your strategies, the top 3 you picked, especially tips for entering a room, and cruising for the most interesting one there. And, if I remember correctly, 100 years ago when I was leaving MD, I said to you I’d rather be “a small fish in a big pond”,rather than a “big fish in a small pond”. You informed me that I did have another alternative, which was to be “a Big Fish in a Big Pond. Never forgot that.

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