How to choose a mentor?
April 21, 2010 3:49 PM   Subscribe

How to choose a mentor?

After a bad experience with an older person who was suppose to help me, in the end it didn't work out so well. Looking back I should have seen the warning signs but now it is too late. What should people beware of when choosing a mentor? What should one look for in a mentor?
posted by abbat to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
a) There are many types of mentors. Is this a graduate school mentor? An work or office mentor? Just someone to look up to in life? I think you'll need to be more specific to get good answers here.

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posted by chrisamiller at 3:53 PM on April 21, 2010

I would suggest you figure out what area of your life you wish to be mentored in, and then ask people you respect who know you well if they might be able to introduce you to someone who might be a good fit.
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:57 PM on April 21, 2010

Speaking mostly for academic and professional mentoring, I have to say that a good mentoring relationship is pretty much a two-way street. You need to like and respect the mentor, the mentor needs to like and respect you. To some degree that needs to develop organically, and it will be affected by things like personality, interests, time, needs, etc.

While you don't want your mentor to take advantage of you, it's worth remembering that a good mentor devotes a lot of time to you.

A mentor should be someone who you can be friendly with, but (assuming it's a school or professional relationship) you won't be friends until much much later, if ever.

In my experience, most mentoring relationships have a life span -- after a couple of years after "graduation," you might exchange birthday cards or something, but you are unlikely to be pals. I have been mentored and I have mentored others (students and professionals), and the ones that work, you can see it pretty quickly.

Sometimes you can talk to people who have worked with your prospective mentor before. If someone has a few happy "apprentices," they will probably make a good mentor. If no one says anything good about them, well, that is a danger sign.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:10 PM on April 21, 2010


Looking for more like a work or office mentor. Having someone to look up to in life could be secondary benefit but I am not really seeking that out.
posted by abbat at 4:27 PM on April 21, 2010

One of my colleagues asked me if I had a mentor who “couldn’t directly benefit from [my] actions” and didn’t “have any direct control” over my career. When they asked that, I realized that sort of knocked out a couple of the people I thought were mentors. I still learn from them and they from me, but I'm also more aware of how our relationship could hinder some good insights.
posted by kendrak at 5:13 PM on April 21, 2010

I've had really good luck with professional mentors. My boss for one of my first jobs made it a prof. dev goal for us all to find mentors outside of our organization. He helped connect us to some people in other organizations to have informational interviews, then it was up to us to keep up the relationship if it worked out. When I left that job, I asked my old boss if he would take me on as a mentor -- he was about 10yrs older than me, doing a job that I wanted to have in 10 yrs. It's been helpful.

Since then, he's continued to encourage me to find other mentors. Reaching out to people that are a few steps down the road from you professionally is surprisingly easy -- work your network, ask to get connected with someone in a parallel role, then have lunch and get that person to tell you the story of how they got where they are. People love telling that story, and if you do this enough times you're bound to find someone whose story is not so different from your own. (This is also a fantastic way to find a job.)
posted by cubby at 7:07 PM on April 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Any more advice? I am interested in what are the warning signs.
posted by abbat at 9:22 AM on April 22, 2010

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