What is a mentor?

The basics of mentorship and how it can benefit you

What is a mentor?

Someone to help you along the way

I started working with my mentor, Lupe, when I was in college. I give him a lot of credit for helping me become the professional I am today. He got me involved in networking, being comfortable in professional settings, and, most importantly, teaching me things I never would have learned in school. He opened doors for me I never could have imagined.


A professional willing to share their experiences

So, what’s a mentor? For me, a mentor is a professional who you respect and trust, and can offer guidance to you as a student or a less experienced student or professional. It’s someone willing to share their knowledge, experiences, and model good professional behavior. A mentor is willing to invest their time into your success. What you can learn from a mentor is invaluable.

Why would a mentor work with you? A good mentor wants to pass on their experience to the next generation of professionals, just like someone did for them. It’s a way for them to give back—return the favor. An important benefit of having a mentor is knowing you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who has experienced — and survived — the trials of school the challenges of professional life. You don’t have to go it alone.


Every mentor relationship is different

Some mentors will be willing to work with a mentee on a long-term basis, maybe over several years. Others, may only have time for a shorter period, maybe a year or less. Still others may not be interested in being a mentor, but are willing to meet with you for an hour or offer advice when asked. Some may allow you to shadow them at work for a day or two to see first hand what their typical workday is like.

Although I’ve had been lucky to work with a mentor for more than a decade, I also have mentors in other professional areas who I trust. I ask for their advice and perspective when I need it.


Looking for a mentor

If you see someone and think, “I’d like to be like him/her,” they’re someone you should definitely approach. Attend career day events on campus where you can meet professionals. You’ll also be able to build your networking skills. Some schools and professional organizations have mentoring programs you can look into. If you meet someone and feel you have a good connection, simply ask them, “Would you mind if I touch base with you periodically?” You’re not asking them for a long-term commitment at this point. Remember, not everyone is going to be a good fit as your mentor.

A mentor in their career for at least five or more years is a good first choice. Someone even more seasoned would be even better, they have more experiences to share. You’ll get the inside scoop on their career, what they do on a daily basis, what they did and didn’t learn in school, and the challenges they encountered.


Learn from someone else’s failures

I found one of the most valuable things I learned from my mentor were the challenges and failures he encountered and how he approached solving them. It helped me prepare for my own failures. Now, I didn’t say it helped me avoid them, but it helped me identify them and some of the possible solutions. Think of what you could learn from a mentor’s major failures!

Surround yourself with successful people, however you define success. Your mentor should be one of them.

Who do you trust and respect to ask for advice? Could they be your mentor?

Benefits of having a mentor

  • Insights into your chosen career, or another career

  • Introductions to other professionals

  • Learn about the skills and experience necessary for success

  • Practice interacting professionally

  • Feedback and advice on school and career

  • Doors opened for internships and job opportunities

  • Gain a new perspective


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