We’ve all heard about the importance of learning under a professional mentor, but how do you even go about looking for one? Learn how to identity the ideal mentor (or mentors) and build the relationship.
Connections are everything in your career, whether they are personal or professional – or in the case of a mentorship, a hybrid of both. And just like finding a job, a friend, or even a significant other, the concept of making the initial connection with a mentor can often seem intimidating. But as it turns out, mentors are quite often not as elusive as they seem.
“I see grads underestimate their own ability to find a mentor. There seems to be a sense that ‘no one would want to be a mentor to me.’ In many cases, I think this happens when you don’t have a clear vision for your career. You really have to put in the research time to figure out what you want to do,” says Brad Floyd, Project/Technology Coordinator and former Career Advisor in Full Sail University’s Career Development department. “In certain situations, you may have to ask someone to mentor you. But a lot of times you don’t have to formally ask at all!”
A gradual evolution of a professional relationship – built upon frequent communication – can eventually grow into a mentorship in a very organic way. Once a genuine connection has been made, each subsequent conversation becomes a bit easier, and at a certain point asking for an opinion on your next career steps can be an easily approachable topic.
“You might broach the subject by asking, ‘I’ve been meaning to get your opinion on something,’ or ‘Would you mind if I bend your ear for a few minutes on something?’” Brad continues. “Generally, if you’re conscious of their schedule, workload, and stress level, you can usually find a good time to ‘stop in’ and chat for a few minutes.”
It’s natural to look for career guidance from someone in a top-level leadership position – after all, if you’re looking to one day occupy a similar role, why not go directly to the source? But in many cases, ideal mentors may occupy less obvious roles in your life. It isn’t always necessary to go for the person with the biggest title or the company with the biggest brand.
“A mentor can easily be someone to the right or left of you, and one could easily pass up on an opportunity because you wouldn’t normally consider them because of their job role or title,” says Jeff Villanueva, a Grammy award-winning engineer and Music Production Career Advisor in the Career Development department. “Relations are everything and that person can be the one to hire you for a job five years from now.”
“When you’re looking to break into an industry after graduation, it’s important to connect with people who are already working in entry-level positions,” adds Stephen Rice, Career Development’s Visual Arts Team Lead. “This group knows what it takes to get your start and is sometimes happy to share their experiences as well, including what worked and what didn’t.”
It’s also important to recognize the value of having multiple mentors. Not only does seeking the guidance from different people broaden your perspective and resources, but it also eliminates the enormous pressure of having to find “The One.”
“You get to see multiple ways of how to get the job done and you can start to formulate your own ways and techniques that work best for you,” says Jeff. “Plus, nobody is perfect. So no one person will have all the answers to everything you need.”
Utilizing online platforms like LinkedIn can easily put you in contact with potential connections. By searching for specific companies of interest and identifying other Full Sail graduates who previously or currently work there can provide a seamless way to at least start to bridge the gap between where you are and where you’d like to be. Career Development can also be a potential resource for finding a mentor or seeking help in identifying/requesting mentorship.
Ultimately, the best way to develop a relationship with a mentor is to be self-aware of what you’re looking for, considerate about the other person’s time and resources, and confident in what you are asking for. And sometimes it’s as easy as just grabbing something to eat.
“If you connect with someone who is in your orbit socially or work-wise, you can just say, ‘Hi there, I’ve been meaning to ask you about (fill in the blank). Could I buy you lunch next week?” says Brad. “You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well this works!”