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Whether you’ve just started your first full-time job, or you’re in the middle of an internship, identifying a mentor in the workplace can be a really valuable way to get career advice that is tailored to your unique needs.  

However valuable mentorship may be, it can be pretty intimidating to ask someone if they’re willing to be yours. How does it all work? Do you simply claim it, and begin Karate Kid-style lessons effective immediately? Here’s advice for when you’re thinking about asking someone to be your mentor, instruction guide to chopping wood in half not included:

Think about what it is you want to accomplish 

A common mistake people make when looking out for potential mentors is they try to choose people they get along great with. While this is important, another essential element of a productive mentor is they should reflect your own ambitions in some way – they’re either in a role you’d like to see yourself in some time in the future or have an academic or work background that is extremely similar to yours. 

Keeping your long-term goals in mind is, therefore, a crucial aspect of being able to figure out who can help coach you to get there. You may already have someone who you know well enough who occupies this role, or you may have to make the effort to establish a connection with this person. 

Your mentor doesn’t necessarily have to occupy a senior role in the place you work, either: it could be a colleague who has a certain skill-set you admire as well and want to be able to learn from.  

Mentorship works best when it is symbiotic  

Once you know who you want your mentor to be, you’ll want to make the effort to foster a relationship with that person. While some offices have mentorship schemes in place, this isn’t necessary for you to get things going – something as simple as asking someone for coffee to discuss work can help build rapport.  

If you feel comfortable enough with the person already, it’s just a matter of sitting down and asking the question. Things you’ll want to discuss include your motivations for choosing the person in question to be your mentor, your personal goals, and how you see yourself benefiting from the experience the other person has to offer. 

Remember that the point of mentorship isn’t that you have a personal life-coach who’s at your disposal any given minute: it’s finding someone whose work you respect and want to emulate. In order to do this effectively, you need to be able to demonstrate your support.

Think about ways in which you may be able to contribute to your mentor’s productivity: whether it’s through something as simple as liking articles they share on LinkedIn or assisting with extra projects outside of work. This way, you both learn from your mentor and provide value to them – a win-win situation for the both of you.

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