Recipe: How to find a career mentor

Today a friend over in England emailed me to "pick my brain". It turns out she's landed herself a new, exciting role and she's successfully negotiated having a 1-1 coach.  

What she wanted from me was advice on how to find a coach who has experience in her particular sector and who could 'steer her' in the right direction.

Based on what she shared, it was clear to me that she was looking for a mentor, and not a coach. This is a common mistake people make, and so I created a recipe for her on how to find a mentor, and I thought I'd share it with you too! 

Possibly like you, she is driven to make a difference. Over the past several years she has worked on some super interesting projects, spending time in communities in remote parts of the world, and most recently working at a social enterprise that focuses on making housing in London more affordable. 

Recipe notes

1. Mentors and coaches aren't interchangeable. While both will help you, they tend to do very different things.

A mentor will provide you with advice based on their own experience. Maybe they'll have firsthand experience in the same industry as you. Or maybe they'll have worked in a different industry, but have performed similar roles. What you're looking for is someone who has achieved a greater level of success than you have, and who can impart some of their wisdom to you. You can ask a mentor a very specific question such as "I'm managing a team of 5 people, and I can't get them all to agree to the new strategic direction for our team. Have you experienced this before? What did you do? What do you think I should do?" - and they will include in their response what their experience has been and what their advice is to you.

On the flip side, your coach doesn't need to be an expert in your industry or profession. You want a coach who can become an expert in you. One main purpose of coaching is to learn how to think better for yourself. You could ask your coach "I'm managing a team of 5 people, and I can't get them to all agree to the new strategic direction for our team. What can I do?" and what your coach will do is help you identify and understand your current approach, determine for yourself what success looks like, and then will help you carve out an approach that works well for you given the specifics of your situation. Your coach will help you strengthen your own ability to problem solve and make decisions. 


Paper + Pen + LinkedIn (if you use it) + Address/Contact book (if you use one) + Phone + Email


1. Write out a clear statement of what you are setting out to achieve in these areas:

A) Professionally within the next year

B) With the help of a mentor

C) Through your search for a mentor

2. Write down what you are willing to commit to and/or give in exchange for your mentor's time and valuable advice (chances are they won't ask for or accept money, but what feels like a fair offer of exchange from you?)

3. Write down what you are asking your mentor to commit to

4. List the benefits you want to receive from the relationship you'll form with your mentor

5. List the ways, topics, and information you would like to gain from your mentor that would lead you to your desired benefits

6. Very quickly brainstorm who you know right now who would satisfy what you are looking to achieve

7. If you haven't landed on someone or several people that leaves you thinking "YES! They are perfect!" then keep going. You can scan your LinkedIn contacts or go through your address book. You can also email close contacts and let them know you are in search of a mentor and see if they are able to suggest anyone who fits the bill.

8. You've very likely now found a few people who you feel confident could be right for you, and now you need to reach out to them to find out if they are up for it! 

How would you approach a potential mentor? Share your answer to this question, and reflections and outcomes of the recipe in the comments below so that other readers will benefit from learning from your experience!

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