There are many essential ingredients to a successful career, but there's one that many people overlook: having a mentor.
You may possess drive and talent, but such qualities won't necessarily help you navigate a tricky situation at work, determine the best way to advance your career or choose the right training class among several intriguing options. These more nuanced situations, the ones in which the issues aren't black and white, are when mentors are especially helpful.
Here are five tips for finding a mentor and establishing a successful relationship:
1. Determine what you need. Many companies have formal mentoring programs that pair new or junior employees with more experienced colleagues. If your firm offers this type of arrangement, talk to your manager about taking part in it.
Don't be discouraged if your company does not have a formal process in place. You can establish a mentoring relationship on your own. You might ask an experienced colleague to offer guidance on your career, for instance. People you approach are often flattered to be asked and happy to help. They do not even have to be in your field to offer the feedback you seek.
2. Look for a "teacher." You may be in awe of someone's work, but sheer talent doesn't always translate into an ability to coach. You need someone who is patient and willing to spend time with you. A mentor should also be generous and honest with advice -- someone who's unwilling to be candid won't help you build your skills. In addition, make sure the relationship is a good fit.
"If your personalities don't mesh well, the relationship is not going to work," notes Ilise Benun, co-author of "The Designer's Guide to Marketing and Pricing" and co-founder of Marketing-Mentor.com.
3. Take an active role. It's useful to consider what you expect from your mentor and what you hope to accomplish from working with him or her. For example, how often do you want to check in with the person? What area of your career are you seeking to improve? If you're ambivalent about the mentoring process, you won't get a lot out of it. Arranging a regular time to meet -- over breakfast once a week, for instance -- can help you remain committed.
"People tend to wait for their mentor to take charge, but it's really important for you to take responsibility for the process," Benun says.
4. Be appreciative. It's important to respect your mentor's time and adhere to some basic etiquette rules. Always show up on time for meetings and keep in mind that while it's OK to reach out to your mentor between formal meetings, don't take advantage by constantly calling or e-mailing him or her. If your mentor has given you an assignment or challenged you to reach a goal -- he or she might suggest you lead a team meeting to enhance your public speaking skills, for example -- be sure to follow up with the person about your progress. Show your appreciation, too. You might send your mentor a thank-you note after a particularly helping coaching session, for example.
5. Think long-term. Keep in mind that you and your mentor may experience some growing pains and that it's important to give the relationship time to develop. If your first few conversations with him or her are a bit awkward, it doesn't mean the relationship won't be successful.
"Don't make a snap judgment about what could potentially be a long-term relationship," Benun advises.
While it may require some effort to begin the mentoring process, the long-term payoffs can be significant. The guidance you receive will allow you to grow and put yourself in better position to achieve your professional goals. So don't overlook this valuable career resource.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.
Permission must be obtained from CareerBuilder.com to reprint any of its articles. Please send a request to email@example.com.