When searching out a mentor, always remember: it’s not just about you. For a mentor/student relationship to achieve its full potential, the mentor needs to get something out of it as well.
It could be that the student’s area of focus involved a domain with which the mentor has great interest. It could be that the student’s intelligence, energy and verve make the mentor excited to help. It could be that the mentor’s thirst for engagement coincides with the student’s desire for advice and input.
In short, I’d recommend before approaching a potential mentor to have thought about why they should mentor you and what they might expect to get out of the relationship. Even awesome people and mentors follow enlightened self-interest; any fantasies of altruism should immediately be discarded.
Once you’ve figured out what you have to offer a mentor, then set about casting a wide net and meeting with lots of potential candidates before focusing on a particular person (or people). In fact, I’d recommend that a person have several mentors, each with a unique set of strengths and attributes.
Selecting a mentor should be approached in much the same way as one would seek potential investment: speak to lots of people; refine the pitch (and perhaps your own perception of what you’re looking for in a mentor); extract value from each conversation and then develop a short list of candidates.
You should approach the effort with discipline, focus and intensity. As to what you should seek from a mentor, it depends on your unique situation. Strategic advice. Brutal feedback. Industry and customer contacts. Input on career management.
As to what qualities a mentor should have, it depends upon what you expect of them. A more technical mentor might not be able to help with contacts and general strategic advice, but they might have a vast trove of technical and product knowledge which can help direct your efforts.
As long as there is a mutual give-take and they are a good person, I think it is difficult to subject your mentors to a checklist-type approach. Different people are different; it’s your responsibility to get from them what you can and to give them something in return.
Finally, you get out of mentor/student relationship what you put in, similar to the value one gets from company advisers and board members. Focused efforts can yield extremely beneficial results; a lackadaisical approach will result in nothing but wasted effort.
This post originally appeared at Information Arbitrage.
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