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The other week I mentioned a good mentor as one of the most important assets needed to get by in this game. Quite a few of you reached out over the days following to seek more information, so I figured I’d talk a little more about how a great mentoring relationship can give you a leg up in this (or any) industry.

In my opinion, aside from raw talent, a productive relationship with a professional mentor is one of the keys to a successful career path. I’ve been fortunate to have several great ones along my career path. However, there’s a right and not-so-great way to go about this. Let’s discuss:

WHAT IS A MENTOR? I’m glad you asked. A mentor can be anyone with more experience (life experience, job experience, etc) than you. In best practice they’re someone who you respect and admire, and who’s made choices and strides in their career similar to those you aspire to make for yourself.

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WHY DO I NEED A MENTOR? Glad you asked that, too! A professional mentor has been there, done that. They’ve traveled the road and have the battle scars to prove it. My father used to say: “Life’s not long enough to make all the mistakes yourself. Learn from others.” This is where a mentor comes in. They can warn you that flipping on your boss really isn’t the best idea, or how to best handle your moody artist. At the same time you can also learn from their successes. They’re able to provide real life insight that you can find in a book (or on a blog).

Another perk of having a mentor is the expansion of your network. A mentor most likely has greater relationships than you do (both in quantity and quality) and will give you at least some access to those people. This can lead to the inside track on a job at a later date, or position you for some other great opportunity because you were that much closer to a power-player.

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HOW DO I FIND/CHOSE A MENTOR? This is important. How you chose your mentor, and whom you ask to mentor you, obviously, has everything to do with how much this relationship will benefit you. There are a few ways you can go about this. You can try the office; there may be a great mentor in your company or building. It could even be your boss. However some people mistakenly automatically consider their boss as a mentor. If you are fortunate enough to have a boss that wants to shape you and help you grow; who takes the time to explain things to you and makes sure you understand processes; and who gives you the opportunity to stand (or fall) on your own; then yes, your boss is a mentor. Otherwise, they’re just your boss.

Organizations are another way to find someone. Professional organizations; fraternities and sororities for those who are Greek; other service, social, academic and even alumni organizations are full of people who probably have like interest and background and can serve as a good mentor for you. The more involved you are in your orgs the easier it’ll be to find that person. As we’re looking in all these external places, let’s also not forget those who are right around us. There may very well be someone in your life – family or friend – that you’ve always admired and respected and can be of great counsel to you.

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I FOUND SOMEONE. NOW WHAT? Once you’ve targeted a person, please remember that you’re asking them to make an investment of time and energy with you. Don’t approach them like they owe you anything; don’t harass. Write them a letter, se

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