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Most of us can benefit from having a mentor or sponsor at our back to teach, promote and encourage us.
It pays to have a helping hand to get ahead in the workplace whether you’re transitioning to the nonprofit world from the for-profit one, or switching into a whole new field. Most of us can benefit from having a mentor or sponsor at our back to teach, promote and encourage us.
A study published earlier this year by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that both men and women who have a sponsor behind them are more likely to ask their boss for a “stretch” assignment and are more likely to ask for raises than those without one.
But landing the right person to have in your corner isn’t always easy. Here are twelve steps to find a mentor.
1. Ask yourself what you want in a mentor or sponsor. Is it an expert who can help with a specific business challenge—asking for a raise, say, or ways to spiff up your image with the proper dress for success attire? Do you want someone inside your workplace who has the inside track to be an advocate for your project or promotion, or someone who can act as a more general sounding board and big-picture guide?
2. Check your employer’s human resources department to see if they have a mentoring program. Many big corporations– General Mills, Intel, Ernst & Young, Proctor & Gamble, American Express, Cisco, Citi, Deloitte, Intel, Morgan Stanley and Time Warner offer sponsorship and mentoring programs. Entrepreneurs might tap into industry associations or SCORE.org, a nonprofit association and resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
3. Look outside the office. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a “business” relationship. You can find mentors outside the workplace from associations you belong to, activities you’re involved in, neighbors, and relatives.
4. Do an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn. You might search for someone from your alma mater. College ties do bind. You type in a title and your university, for example, current vice presidents of marketing and attended Duke University. You can focus the search on your zip code or town, so you can connect with someone nearby.
5 Consider a mentor younger than you. 50-plus workers might want to tap someone who may be junior in age, but can offer more experience and guidance when it comes to new fields and areas like technology where they might not be quite as fluent.
6. Practice your “Why Me” speech. This is a sales job. Landing a sponsor calls for self-promotion. You must toot your own horn, aka, your accomplishments to get a higher-ups attention. They aren’t going to back someone who doesn’t have the potential to be a winner and make them look good. Skip the modest approach.
7. Steer clear of the formal request. The “Will you be my mentor?” invitation can be stiff and off-putting. Sounds like way too much work and responsibility. This is an inner endeavor. The main reason most mentors and sponsors say they take the time to counsel and help is the intangible satisfaction they get in paying it forward. Start by simply asking for advice on one action or problem.
8. Show them how to help. If you truly have a pressing need, take the plunge and make a specific request when you want someone to speak up on your behalf. Most people don’t know where to start to help you.
9. Make it fun. When asking, don’t make it sound like work. Exude a sense of excitement, smile, and laugh a little. Mentorship and sponsorship is an energy-boosting opportunity for both of you, and it often turns into a friendship. Find ways to meet regularly, even without an urgent agenda. Nurture the relationship.
10. Do something for them. Show your gratitude. Make the relationship reciprocal by serving as a source of information and support for your mentor in some way. It’s the proverbial two-way street.
11. Be a mentor. This will give you a better idea of how to work with a mentor yourself. Even if you are at the bottom of your hierarchy at work, you might find mentees through alumni associations or non-profits where you volunteer.
12. Listen. Whether you are the mentor or mentee, you can cultivate the relationship by asking questions and sincerely listening to the answers. Sometimes a mentor’s most important input is to give practical feedback. Resist the knee-jerk urge to respond defensively.
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