A mentor is one of the best things to have in your career. And one of the hardest to find.
I just finished binge watching “Brooklyn 99,” the witty cop procedural sitcom helmed by Andy Samberg. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll be familiar with Amy Santiago’s quest to make Captain Raymond Holt her mentor. Which got me thinking about my own mentor relationship and close friendship with Kelly Breslin Enache, Chief Marketing Officer at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.
Kelly has been a great resource for me in my career. She has helped shape my leadership style, improve my communication, and direct my ambition. She has been a sounding board during the good and the bad (and the ugly). I call her my mentor because I owe much of my success to her guidance and advice.
Mentors are valuable resources in any profession, and the legal profession is no exception. A mentor can help you navigate the ins and outs of the legal field, offer guidance on professional development, and provide support and networking opportunities. If you’re looking to become a successful lawyer, finding a mentor should be one of your top priorities.
Here are my top 12 tips for finding and benefiting from a mentor relationship, which I’m sharing in the hopes you can learn from my experience and build a mentor network that helps you as much as mine helps me.
1. Be realistic about your expectations.
Be realistic about what you are looking for in a mentor. Remember that this is someone who will be willing to offer guidance and advice, but not become an enforcer or disciplinarian. A mentor relationship is highly collaborative; the best relationships are those where both individuals feel comfortable to explore new opportunities or share concerns without fear of harming their professional standing.
It is important to set expectations at the onset, as well as define how often meetings will take place (in person? via email?). Keep in mind that a good mentor will want you to succeed too!
2. Do your research.
It is important to do your research before finding a mentor. You want to make sure you are looking for someone with experience and knowledge in the field you are hoping to pursue. A mentor can help guide you along your career path and offer advice, but it is important that they have something to offer you.
Try reaching out through local bar associations or your alma mater’s career services department to find individuals within your area of interests and expertise. You can also consider how someone “outside the norm” could potentially be a good match for you. Mentorship is often better when the mentor/mentee relationship brings different perspectives and experiences to bear.
3. Ask around.
It may seem like a daunting task, but finding a mentor can be as easy as asking around.
Your colleagues, friends, and family members may know someone who is willing to help guide you along your career path. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals or recommendations; after all, a mentor can make all the difference in your success.
The same can be said if you’re seeking an opportunity to become a mentor. See if anyone in your network is in need of some guidance, or knows someone who is seeking a mentor. People are often seeking help, but afraid to ask!
4. Be proactive.
Be proactive when looking for a mentor by offering assistance first. Helping others without being asked generally leads to appreciation and reciprocation. Volunteering and pro-bono work can be a great way to gain valuable experience, build your resume, and network with successful professionals.
5. Be mindful of your expectations.
Mentors can be a valuable resource for finding opportunities and advancing careers, but it’s important not to overstep boundaries or become too demanding. Remember that mentors are still professionals with lives outside their career responsibilities, so make sure you don’t hold them hostage for constant guidance and advice. In return, remember to always appreciate their time and generosity by offering assistance whenever needed.
It is also important not to expect perfection from your mentor. No one will have all the right answers and no one will give you perfect advice every step of the way. A good mentor should help guide you along your path by highlighting key areas where improvement is necessary while also sharing personal experiences along the way.
Not everyone is going to be a good mentor for you, so it’s important to listen closely when someone offers guidance. Take what they say on board and apply it to your own life. If you think the advice offered doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to politely decline or ask for further information before making your decision.
6. Show what you’ve got.
Don’t wait around asking for opportunities; show people what you’ve got! Make connections by volunteering or taking part in pro bono activities intended to help others. These types of activities can help expand your professional network and improve your skills, while also demonstrating a willingness to offer assistance before receiving any.
Remember this once you find the right mentor too. Be sure to “show off” just a tiny bit – let them know that you are succeeding and exhibit your growth. That’s the whole reason they’re mentoring you. They want to see you shine!
7. Be a team player.
Mentors are there for guidance and advice, not to do the work for you. To get the most out of your relationship with a mentor it is important to collaborate on ideas and suggestions instead of acting as though they have all the answers.
People who are looking for mentees want to develop relationships with people who will be proactive; that means being involved rather than just expecting them to swoop in at their earliest convenience!
8. Be prepared for opportunities.
If your goal is to climb the ranks and make a better life for yourself, this means seeking out new and exciting opportunities wherever they may arise. Mentors can help by providing guidance but it is ultimately up to you to make things happen, so push yourself outside of your comfort zone every once in a while! It is, after all, where the magic happens.
While mentors are often willing to provide references or suggestions based on their own experiences, they are not responsible for opening doors for you. There are certainly some situations where it will be impossible to land an opportunity without having a personal contact within the company, so start making connections now in case there are future opportunities.
9. Prepare for some tough love.
The people who are most likely to be called mentors usually have a strong personality. That means that sometimes you’re going to get some tough love from a mentor, but this is a good thing! Mentors provide feedback in these situations because they want to see you develop and succeed, so it’s important to listen with an open mind.
Mentors also won’t hesitate to call you out if they feel like you aren’t taking their advice or suggestions. In these situations it is important to remember that the mentor is not always right, but rather more likely to be an authority on a particular subject. However, they are certainly more experienced than you! (That’s why you want them to be your mentor after all, isn’t it?) So take a moment to weigh the advice against your own experiences and knowledge before dismissing it entirely.
10. Say thank you.
Being proactive when looking for a mentor is great, but don’t forget to show your appreciation when all is said and done! Send thank you cards or gifts letting mentors know that you really appreciate their time and helping hand. It may seem like an archaic act at first glance, but people generally only remember the bad things if nothing ever gets done in return… so always say thank you even if they were unable to offer much guidance or support!
11. Establish boundaries.
A mentor can be a great sounding board but it’s important to remember that they are not always available for constant guidance or advice. Before you even think about contacting your mentor, take some time to consider whether the matter is urgent or frivolous. If it doesn’t need immediate action, save the conversation for later!
It is also important to establish boundaries around the frequency of your contact. If you are contacting your mentor too often they may become annoyed or overwhelmed by providing assistance. On the other hand, if you wait far too long between communications it may start to feel like you’re not interested in their help.
12. Give back to the community.
One of the best ways to help yourself is by helping others, and mentors appreciate it when you’re generous with your knowledge! If someone comes to you looking for assistance or advice (either now or in the future), take some time out of your day to provide them with support if possible. Remember that part of having a mentor is giving back; it’s a relationship that only lasts as long as it is mutually beneficial.
As a mentee in a company or profession, often the only interaction you have with mentors is when they are offering advice and guidance towards your goals or career aspirations. However, it’s important to remember that eventually this relationship could extend beyond your professional life. It is perfectly acceptable to ask mentors out for a cup of coffee or invite them over to dinner after having established an initial rapport.
Mentors are busy people, so the more you can do on your own without their help, the better off you will be in building a relationship that has mutual benefits. Having said that though, don’t sit back and wait for opportunities to come your way. Make your own opportunities by incorporating them into projects you’re working on in class, volunteering in court, joining bar association committees, etc. Once you find a mentor you can work with and who is willing to work with you, the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can accomplish together.