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Four Tips for Finding a Career Mentor

It’s not unusual for careers to get off to wobbly starts as young people, hampered by limited experience and contacts, find it difficult to achieve a firm footing.

That’s one reason they should make it a goal to find mentors who could help guide them through the rough patches.

Lauren Davenport

Lauren Davenport

“One of the biggest benefits of having a mentor is that person’s success can act as a catalyst for your belief in yourself,” says Lauren Davenport, CEO and founder of The Symphony Agency, a marketing and technology firm. “It’s also a way to expand your network because a mentor can introduce you to people who could help you with your career and who you otherwise might not meet.”

Davenport founded the company after discovering that businesses were struggling to understand how to implement marketing and technology to reach their full potential in the digital age. Her entrepreneurial drive grew the organization from a boutique consulting business into a multi-million dollar agency.

While mentors can be a great asset for young people in their career advancement, don’t expect the mentor to materialize out of nowhere and then do all the heavy lifting, Davenport says. Much of the onus is on the mentee to seek the relationship, cultivate it and make the most of it.

She says a few ways to do that include:

• Don’t be afraid to reach out. A simple LinkedIn search can help you find people who are currently in your dream job. Somehow, they managed to get the very thing you want. How did they pull that off? Send them a short message and tell them your aspirations. Ask if they can spare 30 minutes for you to visit their office and “pick their brains” about how they achieved success.

• Do your homework. After you went to all the trouble to set up that meeting, you don’t want to show up unprepared. Learn all you can about this potential mentor with a Google search. Write down any questions you want to ask. For the meeting, dress like you already have a job with the person’s company and be 10 minutes early, Davenport says.

• Join a networking organization. If reaching out to an individual isn’t in your comfort zone, seek a networking organization that focuses on career growth. Sign up for a MeetUp group taught by someone you admire. “Take notes as the person speaks,” Davenport says. “After the event, you’re also going to need to muster up the courage to introduce yourself. To find a good mentor, in most cases you really are going to need to take the first step.”

• Pay attention to the mentor’s advice. You may not follow through on every suggestion, but you do need to listen to what they have to say. After all, the wisdom and experience they can provide is the whole point of having a mentor. Davenport recalls early in her career joining a networking group and trying to pitch her company to the members without success. She mentioned to her mentor her inability to generate any business. “She told me if I wanted to be taken seriously as a business woman I needed to change my wardrobe,” Davenport says. “I put away the summer dresses I typically wore and bought some tailored jackets and other clothes that helped present a business-professional look.” Soon after, business picked up.

Karen Dybis

Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen spent five years at The Detroit News as a business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project.

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