Ask Our Boss: How Do I Find a Mentor?

Alison Rice

In our monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.

Great question, I just hope my answer isn’t too disheartening.

It is safe to say we’re living in an era of entrepreneurialism, and one important thing that’s come out of it is the start-up story. I don’t know about you, but most of the links I can’t help but click promise insight and lessons on succeeding when the odds are against us or on the flip side, how to fail fast. It’s through this Silicon Valley style storytelling about “how it all began” that a new generation of workers have understood the power of The Mentor (insert unicorn emoji here). And of course, we all want one. And now.

But first, let’s be honest. There’s nothing worse than asking someone how they got their start only to hear them detail all the not-so-glamorous bits. Cue the internal monologue that might go a little something like: “You had to buy someone’s coffee and shred paper for two years?! It’s taken you a decade, five companies, and eight different roles?! You worked for FREE?!” So why is it that we hear these stories and still expect it to happen for us today? I’ll leave this one here for you. Consider it a small gift.

But back to The Mentor. I always do an internal fist pump when other young women contact me to ask if I’ll mentor them. What an honour. I value the bravery to ask – leaning all the way in – but also this united ambition and impatience to reach our potential sooner rather than later. So it turns my stomach each time to politely decline on reply, instead telling them they can ask me absolutely anything and I’ll reply as best I can.

Here’s the thing. Mentors, unfortunately, aren’t guns for hire. You can absolutely hire and pay a coach, but that’s different to a mentor. While I can’t speak for everyone, the past decade spent progressing in my career has taught me you don’t choose your mentor, your mentor chooses you. And like any life-altering relationship, it can happen fast or really, really slow.

To use myself as an example, I didn’t realise I was being mentored until about a year into the process. To be fair I didn’t really know what a mentor was and I think there’s a lesson in that. It meant I didn’t have any expectations or put too much pressure on it. The truth is someone saw my potential before I did, and because I was so focused on the job and not my own five-year plan, it never entered my mind that someone might choose to develop me. 

You don’t choose your mentor, your mentor chooses you.

If I can please slide you another nugget, identifying that “service” character trait in myself has become so invaluable when I’m recruiting. Who is applying to nail the role and add value to the business, vs. who is applying to gain a set of skills or a title they can then take elsewhere?

Through my own experience of being mentored, I now understand it is a huge commitment in both time and energy from the mentor. This is just a theory, but ask anyone you know who speaks highly of a mentor they’ve had in life or business and I bet you they say it happened organically. They’ve also likely got similar personalities, working styles and morals as their mentor. That’s what makes it super enjoyable to be a mentorwhen you see so much of yourself in someone and quickly understand how and where you can help.

I know that’s probably not the answer you wanted to read, but I do hope it helps you continue doing that great personal work developing as talent someone chooses to mentor. For me that means being happy for others when they find success (yes, even before you do!), being accountable, genuine, efficient, resourceful, sharing your knowledge, and valuing feedback. Do all that and I promise you there’s no way you won’t make it. 

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Opening image: Sandra Semburg for Badlands

Explore: Career Advice

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