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What Should You Look For In a Mentor?

What Should You Look For In a Mentor?

In order for anyone to get ahead, it's helpful to have a mentor - and this is especially true for women. I can't tell you the number of women with whom I've spoken who don't feel comfortable advocating for themselves, who could use some career guidance but are afraid to ask, or who simply need an nonjudgmental ear to listen to their struggles and help them grow stronger.

But should people be obligated to mentor one another? And do women need other women to mentor them?

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a trusted advisor or guide who will help you navigate the business world. You may need different mentors at different stages of your career. For example, you may talk with one mentor when you are thinking about asking for a raise or a promotion. A different person may have good advice about how to leave or re-enter the workplace.

Mentors are volunteers. You can choose to pay a career counselor or life coach to do a similar job. However, a mentor is usually simply someone who feels a strong urge within him or herself to help others through situations that he or she has gone through or understands well.

Note that I said "he or she." Not every woman's mentor must be a woman or vice versa. Some people don't have any interest or inclination to be mentors and that shouldn't be held against them. After all, not every person is a good teacher.

Moreover, sometimes it helps to have the point of view of someone of the opposite sex, in particular if you are a female working within a male dominated business (think tech in particular). I had a male mentor for several years. He gave me the boost of confidence I needed to ask for what I wanted at work. And guess what - with his coaching, I got it.

Should I Become a Mentor?

As I mentioned above, I totally understand that not every person wants to be - or should be - a mentor. At the same time, any person in a leadership position should know that he or she is already inspiring other people. Even if you don't want to be a mentor, at least be mindful of the fact that other people will emulate you and watch and learn from your actions.

This fact is particularly high in my own mind, as I have two daughters and two sons. I want all of my children to feel like it is the natural thing to see women succeeding in the workplace. And I, myself, want to work in a world where it hardly matters whether you are woman or a man - just whether or not you are good at your job.

The road to that end goal involves not just me or the promotion of my own career, but also the promotion of other women's career. So I feel a drive towards mentorship, with the hopeful result of a more equal workplace.

How Can I Become a Mentor?

Are you in a leadership position but not sure how to put yourself out there as a mentor? Here are a few thoughts on the matter:

  • Be yourself. Simply by being a person in a leadership position, you are already changing other people's lives. Consider speaking on panels or at events, and letting others know that they can contact you for advice or guidance.

  • Find peers. Join a local group and begin to network. You never know - in addition to finding people to mentor, you might find a mentor for yourself!

  • Spread the word. Talk with your friends and peers. Let let them know that you are happy to provide guidance for those who need it. You may be surprised to find who comes out of the woodwork.

Do I Need a Mentor?

Not every person has to have a mentor. But knowing that the option is there if you need it is empowering in itself.

Moreover, even (and maybe especially) female leaders can use a group of peers who can support and inspire her. The higher up the chain you get, the more isolated you may feel. Having a group of friends, mentors, and peers who will be there for you throughout your journey is invaluable.

Ready To Take Action?

Are you a mentor? Are you looking for a mentor? Let me know via email at or via Twitter at @HollyChessman. I'd be happy to help hook you up with someone who can make a difference in your life - or someone to whom you can make a difference.

About the Author

Holly runs Holly Chessman Marketing, a premier marketing firm that provides strategic advice, digital services, and social media guidance and education. Named one of New England’s Top 40 Influencers in Content and Digital Marketing, Holly fully understands the power of online engagement. She is passionate about implementing marketing strategies that result in quick growth, rapid revenue and happy customers. Holly has worked for a variety of tech companies, as well as spearheaded her own marketing consulting firm. She is regularly quoted in a variety of major publications. Holly is also not afraid to embrace her nerdy side (as evidenced by her love of Neil Gaiman and her “talking” TARDIS).

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