How to land a mentor and work with one effectively

The pursuit of success is a journey filled with roadblocks, detours and dead-ends, but mentors can guide you through your biggest challenges. So where exactly are they and how do you start working with them? Here are five ideas to get you started.

This is part of the the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto, supported by Charles Sturt University. This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

Imagine for a moment, you’re driving alone into uncharted territory hoping to reach a destination you’ve only ever dreamed of. The road is rocky and filled with painful setbacks and sometimes you wonder if you’re even heading the right way.

What if there was someone who’s travelled this road before and will sit in the passenger seat to help guide, inspire and motivate you through the sunshine and the rain? This is what great mentors do and it’s how they’re changing the lives of women across academia, business, the non-profit sector and beyond.

So how exactly do you find inspiring mentors to come on this journey with you?

Reach out to someone who inspires you

Look out for senior leaders, experts and professionals whose capabilities, communication style or sheer grit inspires you.

Spark up a conversation with them in person, over email or even social media. If it’s appropriate, give them a call and always be authentic in your request.

A few years ago, Kirsten Locke, Head of the School of Indigenous Australian Studies at Charles Sturt University, began searching for a mentor to help her transition into executive leadership. After encountering a particularly inspiring senior leader at meetings, she decided to email her.

“I was really impressed with the way she operated and so I just asked her if she’d mentor me. She was the presiding officer of academic senate at that time so I was probably punching above my weight a bit in terms of who I asked.

“I said I was thinking of [applying for head of school] and I really liked the way she worked and felt like I could learn a lot from her. So I asked her whether she’d be interested and she was really happy.”

If you give it a shot and get rejected, don’t be discouraged.

There is more than one mentor out there and many ways to work with them.

Try a formal program

Formal mentoring programs are a great way to find mentors who are looking to work with  people like you.

Stars Foundation founder Andrea Goddard began her search for a mentor when she became a “first-time CEO”. At the time, she didn’t know anyone with a formal mentor so she began her search by asking her network about it.

“Firstly, I asked a lot of questions. ‘Have you ever had a mentor or have you thought about having a mentor?’ ‘How would you go about that?’ ‘Do you know anyone?’”

Eventually, someone introduced Goddard to Kilfanan Australia, a formal mentoring program for CEOs of charities and non-profits.

“That’s how I ended up with the mentor I still have.”

Goddard’s mentor is a highly experienced business executive who sits on the board of top ASX-listed companies like Telstra.

“For me as a first-time CEO and board director, she was able to provide wisdom, guidance, perspective and experience.”

 The informal way in

There is a way to reap the benefits of mentoring without one formal mentor.

According to University of New South Wales associate professor Caroline Ford, ‘stealth mentoring’ is an informal way of drawing expertise and advice from a wide range of talented leaders and professionals.

This type of mentoring is based on catchups and conversations with a wide mix of people who are successful at something that you’d like to learn.

“You realise that you have this whole sea of mentors. It is kind of insane to assume you’re ever going to find the perfect mentor who’s going to have all the skills and attributes you’re interested in.”

Keep your commitments

Strong mentor relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.

Whether it’s scheduled meetings via Skype or a monthly catchup over coffee, it’s extremely important, according to Kirsten Locke, to be respectful of the time your mentors generously make available.

“My responsibility was to ensure I made every meeting or gave notice. I was really respectful in the way I worked with her time and expertise.”

For Andrea Goddard, mutual trust also ensures you can have honest discussions about the problems you face.

“I don’t ever, for a moment, think that [my mentor’s] going to go and talk to her colleagues or friends about my challenges.

“As a result, there’s just that absolute trust in that confidentiality of our discussions.”

Go for growth

The greatest mentor relationships are deeply empowering because they push you to grow, according to Locke.

“I didn’t want her just to tell me everything I was doing was great because I like to be challenged and she was able to do that.”

A mentor should provide you with invaluable feedback, guidance and ideas on tackling complex problems.

For Goddard, this has given her immense clarity and self-belief as an emerging leader.

“She’s affirming and reassuring on one hand, but she’s also incredibly challenging and she cuts straight through. She just gets to the heart. She’s a great listener, she’s super analytical and highly experienced and so just seems to be able to nail it every time.

“Sometimes I say to her: I’m not sure how I would have survived without you.”

Find out how we can help you

Career success is built on support, and that starts with a close-knit community when you study. At Charles Sturt University, we get that. That’s why, however you choose to study with us, we have the support ready whenever you need it. From study skills to health and wellbeing, we’ve got you’re back – just like a good mentor. Whether you’re doing your first degree, taking on postgrad study, or looking for a career change – chat to our friendly team to find out what’s possible at Charles Sturt.