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Do you have a mentor?

According to data released on Tuesday by the business and networking site, LinkedIn, most of you don’t. The LinkedIn study found that one in five working women DO NOT have a mentor.

Not surprisingly 82 percent of the same women think that having a mentor is important for your career.  And they’re right!

“Nobody is re-inventing the wheel,” Nicole Williams of LinkedIn told me in an interview I conducted for Reuters. “We all need to be led in life and specifically with our careers. Mentoring is informational and relational.”

Despite seeing mentors as important, LinkedIn study showed a disconnect between knowing you need a mentor, and actually taking the steps to have one.

When LinkedIn asked study participants why they didn’t have a mentor, 52 percent of them said that it’s because they’ve never encountered someone appropriate.

LinkedIn also asked women who had never been a mentor why they weren’t mentoring another professionals. Sixty-seven percent of them said that they have never been mentors because, “no one ever asked.”

So the problem is that we are not asking because the people we could ask aren’t appropriate? Let’s look at this further.

DEFINING A MENTOR

Williams explained to me that the “one-in-five” number could be a result of the different ideas that people have of a mentor when really there is no one definition.

“Sometimes we think of mentors only in terms of lifelong, years- long relationships,” she said. “That’s not always the case. It can play a sporadic role.”

Mentors are just as necessary in helping you with your goals in the now. Even though the lifelong relationships can be seen as ideal, see what advice someone has to offer you today.

Also, not all your mentors have to be black women. I am not sure where I came up with that idea, but I wanted all my mentors to be black women. This was hard mostly because not all black women fit my needs and at one point, I was the only black woman working in my company. Advice from black women can be helpful, but it’s not the only type.

IT’S ALL IN THE ASKING

While it does happen to a small lucky few of us, mentors don’t just fall into your lap. A level of proactivity needs to come from your end in finding and asking someone to be your mentor.

The key is asking in a manner that makes the task attractive to them, “It can sound heavy,” Williams said.  “People are busy and it is hard to dedicate and give time in mentoring people.”

So here are some tips on finding and approaching your mentor:

  • The question:  Using the word “mentor” while asking can make it sound heavier than intended. Instead ask a potential mentor for advice here and there. Another option is to ask them to a meal or coffee, so you can pick their brain and ask questions. Some will respond agreeably, some won’t. But people are always flattered when you ask for their advice and help, tap into that weakness.
  • It’s a tit-for-tat relationship: Find a way, if possible to make the relationship beneficial for both the mentor and mentee so you both get something out of it.

“People have to understand that mentoring is a reciprocal relationship,” Williams explained. “It is about give and take. If you need something from someone who is busy, you can find ways to relieve them from some burden.”

For example: One of my mentors, a former editor, always brings along her laptop and a list of computer and social networking questions that I can help her with. For me it’s as easy as ABC to navigate the web, but she is eternally grateful. That way I never feel nervous about always asking, and she doesn’t feel tired about always giving.

  • Define the relationship: Williams advises that you define expectations with your mentor so things don’t go sour based on miscommunication. Expected time commitment and effort from both ends needs to be discussed “Undefined expectation can cause things to fall apart,” she said. “It is important to have a conversation on what the boundaries of the relationship will be.”
  • You can have multiple mentors:  Every place I have worked or interned for, I have left with someone I can always turn to for career advice. Some are approached more than others, but they all add to my mentoring “network.” Build your own network.
  • Mentors don’t always look like “mentors”:  We all have images in our head of what a mentor looks like. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap. A mentor could be older. They could be younger. They could be male or female. Perhaps a different race. As long they offer the advice you need, make the contact. Don’t limit yourself.

 

Do you have a mentor? How does your relationship work? If you don’t, why not?

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  • If you’re a professional, find out if your company offers formal mentoring network programs you can participate in. That really helped me because even though I did know I wanted a mentor, I didn’t have an expansive network and didn’t know who to reach out to.

    The guesswork is taken out of the equation because you’re matched up with someone else who is more experienced. I’ve met wonderful people who have helped me along in my career. Also, don’t feel like asking someone to be your mentor is brown-nosing, most people have lots of advice to offer, they just aren’t asked enough!

    Lastly, be prepared with questions. (Always start off with genuinely trying to get to know them though) Think through what you want out of the relationship and be honest about it. Do you want to increase your network, do you want career advice, people can only help you if they understand how they can help.

  • I asked someone to be my mentor who I knew and thought would be a great fit. She declined however. I guess the term “Mentor” added a bit of pressure, like the article said. But she did say she would always be there for me when I needed to talk. So I’m still looking to find one.

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