The word "mentor" with a light bulb

The prevalence of mentoring is growing in corporate America, with 70% of Fortune 500 companies having some form of mentoring program. Even if your employer doesn’t offer a formalized system for connecting with a mentor, you can still reap the benefits by seeking one out on your own.

Here, we’ll share some of the biggest benefits of a mentor and explain how to find a mentor when you’re not sure where to start.

Why Having a Career Mentor is Beneficial to Your Career Development

Higher rate of career advancement

Professionals who have a career mentor consistently outperform their non-mentored peers when it comes to getting promoted. A review of a female-to-female mentoring program at Flinders University in Australia, for example, found that 68% of mentees had been promoted at least once since the start of the mentoring program compared with 43% of staff who had not received mentoring.

The impact of mentoring on career advancement can be even more significant for minorities; according to a review of evidence on mentoring programs by Cornell University, promotion and retention rates of minority men and women who were mentored increased by anywhere from 15% to 38% compared to their non-mentored peers.

Higher salaries

What do Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson have in common? They’re all ultra-successful billionaires, for one thing, but they also all had mentors. For Gates it was Warren Buffet, for Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and for Branson, airline entrepreneur Freddie Laker. In addition to being associated with more frequent promotions, having a mentor is linked with higher salaries.

A study of 7,500 employees, both mentored and non-mentored, found that employees who didn’t have a mentor saw salary increases in line with the general population—about 10 to 12% over the course of the study. Mentored employees and managers, however, received raises that were on average 3 to 4% higher. That equated to salary increases 22% higher for mentored employees than their non-mentored counterparts and 34% for mentored senior managers. In other words, raises were more significant for mentored employees and they also made more over the long term as well.

Greater sense of personal wellbeing

The benefits of a mentor reach beyond promotions and salaries, as well. Having a career mentor can positively impact your personal wellbeing in a number of meaningful ways.

In a review of mentoring programs in higher education, researchers found that after just a year of participation in a mentoring program, mentees reported an increase in self-esteem and self-assuredness on the job. Mentors can offer coaching and other forms of professional development that employees might not otherwise receive, increasing their sense of confidence in their work.

Additionally, mentees reported stronger time management skills and a better work-life balance after a year of mentoring. Work-life balance is an important factor in overall employee satisfaction, which impacts everything from turnover to performance.

Insider insight

In every field, there are certain things you can’t possibly know unless some well-meaning advisor invests the time and effort to tell you. You’ll be privy to many more of these insider insights if you have a mentor who’s several years ahead of you in your field.

In academia, for example, a mentor can offer advice about applying for and obtaining tenure, which brings a higher level of job security and more professional freedom. In finance, a mentor can provide guidance on which firms have the best reputation and which should be avoided.

Expanded network

Like it or not, who you know can go a lot further than what you know when it comes to learning about opportunities, landing an interview or even winning a job offer. Having a mentor multiplies your professional network.

Your mentor has built a career’s worth of professional and personal connections, many of whom are likely outside of your own realm. As a result, you’ll be more likely to hear about potential industry shakeups, promising job openings and other useful news that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Related: How to Network

Professional feedback 

A mentor can be a valuable source of professional feedback; both positive and negative. While your quarterly or annual performance reviews provide some insights, they often fail to give you the personal, detailed level of coaching that can really accelerate your career.

Further, a mentor serves as an unbiased party that’s great for bouncing ideas off of or asking those questions you’d never be able to ask a manager or peer. Tricky questions like ‘should I switch companies?’ ‘Should I ask for a raise?’ ‘What should I do about my difficult manager?’ and so on are all topics where a mentor can share invaluable input.

How to Find a Career Mentor

If you’re wondering how to find a mentor and thinking it all feels a bit awkward, you’re not alone. It’s like dating, but the stakes are higher because your professional reputation is on the line! The good news is there’s a way to go about finding a career mentor that’s both organic and effective. Here are a few tips for finding and approaching a new mentor relationship.

1. Identify people you admire

If you’re in a larger organization, you might start with high performers who are several levels up the food chain from you. Look within your broader industry to see who’s spearheading projects you want to emulate. Ask trusted family members and friends to connect you to people in their networks. Additionally, many industries have non-profit organizations dedicated specifically to matching mentors and mentees, like SCORE for small business owners.

It’s a good idea to go into it with several potential candidates, since not everyone will have the time or the desire to be in a mentorship role.

2. Set a date

This is perhaps the biggest hurdle most new mentees face when approaching a prospective mentor: asking them on the first “date.” It helps to shift your perspective on this event. Instead of viewing it as a high-stakes meeting where you’ll cement a major relationship, instead think of it as an informal get-to-know-you session.

Keep it casual, like a short meeting over coffee. Brush up on your knowledge of the person and plan for a few topics you want to ask about in advance, but don’t turn it into an interview. This is an opportunity to feel each other out and see if there’s a natural connection that, with time, might blossom into an ongoing professional relationship.

3. Evaluate how it went

Your initial meeting will tell you quite a lot about whether this person is the right mentor for you. Did the two of you hit it off, or was the conversation stilted? Did they seem engaged with providing helpful answers to your questions, or did it seem like they were watching the clock until the meeting was over? Most importantly, did they leave the door open for future communication, like giving you their card or inviting you to follow up with additional questions?

Remember, it can take several of these meetings before you find a mentor that seems like a natural fit. Once you do, it’s much easier for the relationship to grow organically.

4. Let it breathe 

Now that you’ve found an ideal mentor, give the new relationship time to breathe and develop naturally. You can follow up immediately after your meeting to thank them for their time and possibly ask another question or two related to your conversation.

After that, there’s no need to race to set another meeting date. Instead, follow up again in a few weeks or months to share professional news or ask for their guidance in an area of their expertise. Be proactive and do this periodically to help the relationship grow, making sure they remain open to sharing their guidance.

5. Hold up your end of the bargain

A mentor is offering you their most precious asset: their time. Thus, it’s on you to be a gracious mentee by doing everything you can to uphold your end of the relationship.

When they carve out time for you, show up early and prepared with relevant items to discuss. When they give you feedback, take it and work hard to grow from it. When you say you’re going to do something like follow up on a lead they share with you, deliver on it.

Finally, remember that not all mentorship relationships need to last the duration of your career to be beneficial. Sometimes, you’ll gain a great deal by meeting with someone a few times over the course of a few months. If it grows into a more lasting friendship, wonderful, but there’s plenty to be gained from short-term mentorship interactions, as well.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn