Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Looking for a Mentor

Mentors can be critical to our career growth and advancement. But finding the right one can be hard. Here are 6 mistakes to avoid when looking for a career-changing mentor.

Ksenia Stetsenko

Published on 

October 27, 2021

Updated on 

Time to Read

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Fast learning and forming connections are the most important skills for success in the modern world. But they are not so easy to learn on your own, so having a mentor is necessary. Therefore, it’s no surprise that 60% of new hires want a mentor to help them succeed and be more productive early on. 

The purpose of a mentor is to help their mentee to be motivated and successful. Mentors do this by leveraging their life experience, career advice, knowledge, and inspiration to guide mentees in the right direction with their careers. Considering the value of having a mentor,  finding the right one can lead to a successful and fulfilling career. 

However, it’s challenging to find the right mentor for you. In this article, we’ll outline 6 mistakes to avoid when looking for a mentor. The mistakes are:

  1. Having unclear goals
  2. Asking a friend, company colleague, or a family member to be your mentor
  3. Approaching a complete stranger to be your mentor
  4. Hiding your true struggles and weaknesses to pretend you are better than you truly are
  5.  Ignoring peer or group mentoring
  6. Not coming prepared to meet your mentor

Let’s explore each in detail.

1. Having unclear goals

Simon Sinek, a bestselling author and inspirational speaker, whose “Start With Why” presentation is the third most popular TED talk of all time, advises us to always begin with the most important question: “why?”. You need to know what your goals are and why you want to have a mentor. After figuring that out and discussing your vision with a mentor, it’ll be easier for you to start improving the chosen area of your life, and your mentor will help you with all the rest–the whats, whens, and hows. 

Otherwise, mentoring can be unproductive. How can a mentor help you to find an answer to a question you can’t articulate? Moreover, how can your mentor provide helpful advice regarding a problem that isn’t defined? Having unclear mentorship goals is a common mistake that leads to disappointment on both sides.

A popular goal-setting framework is the SMART method.This framework aims to provide clarity and motivation. It will help you in defining your objectives and setting a due date. “SMART” is an acronym that stands for:

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable)
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
  • Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)

Some experts have also expanded it to “SMARTER” to include the following extra focus areas described by adjectives like Evaluated and Reviewed. 

While reviewing and setting your goals and thinking about your future mentor, you can end up making the next mistake. 

2. Asking a friend or a family member to be your mentor

You may decide to find a mentor among your friends or family. They may have something to teach you, and it can be hard to decline their support and advice because they know your background and you can trust them. 

But here’s a trap you may step in when getting mentoring from your close circle of people: 

  • Your friends and family will have a bias opinion. Friends and family are a great support network, but it’s helpful to have an unbiased third party as a mentor.
  • You’ll alter the relationship with your friend or family member. Have you ever thought about why psychotherapists avoid working with their friends and hanging out with their clients? Mixing relationships is a confusing mistake in finding a mentor too. 

Additionally, having a friend who is a mentor is similar to going into business with people close to you–a complicated topic. 

3. Approaching a stranger to be your mentor

If friends and family shouldn’t be your mentor, you may consider a stranger. But that, too, can be a mistake.

The key is to ensure your future mentor has similar values, goals, and experience in the area you want to improve on or grow into. If you don’t, you may waste your time and energy on the wrong mentor. You don’t want a mentor who is your clone, but you have to have some kind of common ground to build great communication and fruitful collaboration. To do so, please, don’t make the next mistake.

4. Hiding your true struggles and weaknesses

No problem can be solved when it’s ignored. 

You must honestly admit and accept your weak points or the things you’re struggling with, so you can work on them with your mentor. The more open you are about your problems, the better your chance to change your situation and turn these weaknesses into strengths. 

You can’t fake it with a mentor if you want to improve. Building a successful mentoring relationship depends on it.

5. Ignoring peer or group mentoring

When we think of mentors, we usually think of a more senior leader providing guidance to someone early on in their career. This is only one form of mentorship. Many formal mentoring programs within organizations encourage peer and group mentoring. 

Peer mentoring is when colleagues are paired together through a buddy system to hold each other accountable and support each other in achieving their goals. Group mentoring is similar to peer mentoring, but one senior mentor supports a group of peers.

6. Not coming prepared to meet your mentor

Meeting with a mentor is more than just a coffee chat. It’s an intentional conversation that’s purpose is to help you overcome challenges and work towards your goals. When you do find a mentor, come to the meeting prepared with questions in advance. Take notes on the advice they provide, resources they share and make sure to follow up on them after. If a mentor invests their time in helping you, make sure that you aren’t forgetting their advice and not applying it. 

Finding your next mentor

In conclusion, let's briefly remind ourselves about every mistake to avoid when finding a mentor. So here you have the short not-to-do list:

1. Having unclear goals

2. Asking a friend, company colleague, or a family member to be your mentor

3. Approaching a complete stranger to be your mentor

4. Hiding your true struggles and weaknesses

5. Ignoring peer or group mentoring

6. Not coming prepared to meet your mentor

The last thing to keep in mind when looking for a mentor is to display the characteristics of a good mentee. A great way to get someone to be your mentor is to show them you have the traits of someone hungry to learn, grow, and accept challenging feedback. A mentor wants to know that they won’t waste the time they invest helping you. Prove to them that it isn’t by acting on their advice. In this way, you’ll find a mentor who may drastically change the trajectory of your career.

About the author:

Ksenia Stetsenko is a cultural manager and a creative writer based in Lviv, Ukraine. She has worked at the Swiss music association as a writer and a translator for over four years and is one of the most successful alumni of Ukrainian Catholic University and Ukrainian Leadership Academy.

About the Author

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