How do you find a good professional mentor?

Some rights reserved by Peter Guthrie

Tonight, my post is really more of a question: How do you find a good professional mentor?

The importance of mentors for one’s professional growth and guidance has been emphasized to me repeatedly over the years but recently the reminders have been even more prevalent. With the ending of my master’s program and the beginning of the next phase in my career, I have been attending a number of professional networking events, including a recent conference at American University. Like the other events I have attended, the Women in Business Conference reiterated the value of having a mentor but when I sat down at the “mentoring” table during lunch, there were no clear answers about how to find a mentor. I heard warnings about the political and professional complications that can arise from having a mentor in your workplace (e.g., a boss or colleague) and I heard the age old advice of reaching out to everyone you possibly can to connect with potential future mentors. I also heard comments about the added-value of mentors for women and young professionals. I’m curious to learn if there is research behind those ideas but I’m even more curious to discover why mentoring can be such a “hot topic” at networking events yet rarely have any clear actions steps associated with it. I have discovered that finding a mentor is not as easy as simply contacting as many people as you can or crossing your fingers and hoping that one will magically appear (I’ve tried).

Given the crossroads I am currently at professionally (i.e., selecting a career path to build upon my new master’s degree, one that ideally combines some or all of my interests in early childhood education, global education, and educational technology) it seems like the perfect time to search for a professional mentor. It would be amazing to have guidance about various professional paths, such as working as an independent consultant versus a full-time employee, or to to learn more about the best ways to find a career that will allow me to continue to grow professionally. I’m interested to hear another person’s professional perspective about each of the career fields I am exploring and the ideal way to set myself up to achieve my professional goals.

So with all of those questions in mind, I ultimately come back to the first question, how do you find a good professional mentor? I’d love to hear others’ ideas and experiences with answering this question!

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3 responses to “How do you find a good professional mentor?

  1. I am not sure there is an easy way to find one, indeed in my experience, it takes more than one person to truly inspire and motivate you. People that have inspired me have changed over the years as I have moved through phases of my career, I have tended to find people who have supported me in a variety of different ways.
    As I have ‘matured’ both in age, and profession the greatest mentors have been those who have offered me provocations, asked questions, or put ideas out there. They have listened to what I had to say, suggested further paths to follow, but have not given me the answers, they have left me wanting to know and to find more…..
    I guess too that sometimes I have found myself grounded in the reality of a work place, and recognising that it is not where I really wanted to be, but I have learned from that. Sometimes it is just about taking the first step!
    In my own career I have found that my focus has evolved and changed immensely from when I first started Kindergarten teaching. At the end of the day I think we are part of a much more fluid occupational generation than our grandparents or parents were. We have options in terms of career, and tend to change them more, we don’t just have be a teacher for the rest of our life. I say go with your passion, don’t be afraid to try different paths, sometimes experiencing variety is good…
    Not sure if that helps any, but some thoughts anyway

  2. Unknowignly, you’ve become my cyber-mentor. More precisley I’m cyber stalking you. Whatever you post, I read, share, and put into practice. From the Investigator webinars to chats, to linkedin posts, to your blog. I’m there, inhaling everything Margaret Powers. I am considerablly older than you. However, you’ve achieved more academic and professional success and I consistently learn from you. I have been in the field of ECE for over twenty years. I’ve worked in the kitchen, infant room, as an admin., curri. consultant, now I am a literacy facilitator. Why mention all of this? In all the years, I’ve been in ECE, I have unknowingly been mentoring along the way. I did not know it at the time. It wasn’t I read letters of recommendation where each described me as a mentor. In fact, I looked at some of them as mentors in various practices of my ECE career. Dispensing advice, assessing classroom & peer engagement, re-tooling tried practices, researching up and coming techniques…all these things were done in a community of mentors. I’m long winded, but what I’m trying to say is that actively seeking a mentor may or may not produce what you want. Look around at the people with whom you engage. Who sticks out as your go to person? Who’s the consistent person you turn to for hands on instruction? As a curriculum consultant, I’m there as the go to person. With my literacy program, teachers use my techniques in their classroom and I see the result of this on my weekly visits. I then, learn from them what is working and what areas needs additional support. I’ve found that at specific points in time the staff have been my go to people. A mentor may be a different person at different times (even in the same arena at the same time). I’m not sure there is such a thing as My Mentor. However, My Mentors seems more realistic and beneficial. As I think on it, it has been for me.

  3. Sorry it’s taken so long to get back to both of you – traveling to Senegal took me away from the blogosphere for a while!

    @moffnz – Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply! It makes a lot of sense that you need multiple mentors and people who can inspire you throughout your lifetime in various areas of your career. Your greatest mentors also sound like great teachers, offering questions and and ideas but allowing you to find the answers. I appreciate your inspiration and hope to follow my passion, which I’m confident will lead to a winding but meaningful career path. I’ve had the opportunity to experience a good amount of variety already and have found that each position and experience can be connected in some way to the next, if only as an indicator of what not to continue as I move forward and try to make room for my professional interests. I hope to continue to focus on the learning and what I can gain from each step in my career, regardless of how it does(n’t) fit into an expected path.

    @Pam – I’m honored to be your cyber-mentor and so glad we’ve had the chance to connect through technology! You raise a good point that those we see as mentors may in turn consider us mentors as well. It’s so important to value those friends and colleagues who you work closely with and to reflect on the impact they have had on your life and career. I think at times, it can be easy to be engaged in a community of mentors without even realizing it unless you take the time to step back and notice/name it. You’ve reminded me of that and the value of looking around to see who are the “go-to” people I turn to for various types of advice, instruction, and support. It sounds like you have affected so many people through your own mentoring and I hope I can add you to my group of “My Mentors” as well.

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