Tech mentorship is a two-way street and here’s how you do it
The first time I crossed paths with the person that would eventually become one of my favorite mentors, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy.
It was 2012, and I met Richard Hopkins while we were both working for Deloitte. We were both assigned to this massive project that required us to fly in and out of a remote location, and I vividly recall sifting through pictures of my new teammates. I came across Richard’s photo and immediately thought: “I don’t like this guy. I don’t want to work with him.”
I quickly learned not to judge a book by its cover, as Richard and I became close friends. Thankfully, Richard has helped me analyze and navigate difficult career decisions by providing the sort of mentorship many people in the tech world struggle to find.
Tech professionals need mentors who have their best interests at heart, lending them the wisdom of experience and giving them a head start in various endeavors.
Newcomers to the tech world often ask me how to find a mentor, but the question itself is too broad: There isn’t a well-defined approach to mentorship in the tech industry, and what works for one person isn’t necessarily right for everyone else.
Mentorships should be mutually beneficial
Mentors can play as large or as small a role in your career as you want, but a mentor who’s invested in your success can lend a different perspective to challenges, motivate you when you’ve plateaued, and even help you tune out unnecessary distractions to regain focus on what truly matters.
One of the biggest reasons my relationship with Richard has been so beneficial is that we bring complementary skill sets to the table while still sharing core values and personality traits. We worked together to build a foundation of mutual respect, agreeing to prioritize sincerity over all else. We try to find the best way possible to address even the most uncomfortable situations — particularly when we believe it will positively affect the other person.
When people look for a mentor, they typically try to find someone who can offer advice regarding a particular career hurdle instead of looking for someone who can be supportive personally as well as professionally. Richard and I definitely discuss our careers, but our friendship goes far beyond the working world. His advice has been incredibly helpful in good times and bad.
I wish there were an easy way to steer people toward their ideal mentor, but life doesn’t always work that way. I’ve been lucky enough to find the right mentors at the right stages of my career. Your path to finding a similar mentor will not be the same, and that’s fine. Just remember that you never know where or when you’ll meet the perfect candidate.
An open mind is key to finding your dream mentor
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding a mentor in the tech world, but patience and an open mind eventually yield results. The most important element of a successful mentorship is finding someone with whom you can establish a sustainable two-way connection.
Start by imagining your ideal mentor. Whether it’s a vague list of descriptors or a precise job title and qualifications, think carefully about what you’d like in an advisor. Work history and career path are important, but you also want to factor life experience into the equation. Think long and hard about what you want to get out of the partnership because you’re going to spend a lot of time together. You need to find someone whose company you enjoy and, most importantly, whose advice you trust.
Once you have a rough idea of your dream mentor, be on the lookout for individuals who fit the description. Try to engage in new activities and start conversations with people you typically might not speak with. For example, attend local networking events or join groups of like-minded individuals on a social networking site like Meetup. You could also browse online networks dedicated to pairing mentors with mentees, including the aptly named Find a Mentor.
You might be surprised by where you connect with potential mentors. I met Richard through work, but if you actively engage with the people around you, you can find intelligent and accomplished individuals in even the most unexpected places.
When you reach out to someone who you think might be a good fit, try to be as direct as possible. I’m not surprised when a person feels the need to “beat around the bush” and avoid asking someone to be his or her mentor, but it’s best to start things off with complete transparency — this sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. German researchers found that transparency plays a key role in the success of business relationships. Being clear about your intentions works wonders while ensuring both parties are on the same page.
Remember to not go into the situation thinking solely about what you stand to gain. It’s important to consider what you can offer your prospective mentor. All relationships — personal and professional — should be a two-way street. Both parties are investing time, which is arguably anyone’s most valuable asset. By ensuring your mentor also gets something out of the partnership, you’re building the foundation for a lasting union.
Above all else, try to be patient as you search for your ideal mentor. You won’t always find the perfect person right away. You might also initially overlook wonderful people who end up making a profound impact on you or your business. Trust the process, and be open to all opportunities.
Finally, remember that you can’t force a fruitful mentorship. It typically involves a significant time investment from both parties, so find someone who is willing to be as involved as you are and who cares just as much as you do. In other words, don’t ask a random person to advise you solely because you think it will benefit your career. It requires plenty of trust, but the benefits of a meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership far outweigh the effort necessary to find a solid mentor.