Women Seeking Mentors: 5 Questions to Ask

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

Working with a mentor can serve as a leg up for any professional at any career level. The potential gain is significant, especially for female professionals. That’s because a mentor’s advice can help her better face gender-related challenges still common in the modern workplace.

It really comes down to helping to maximize strengths and working to carve out a future you want. Mentors remind us of who we are and empower us to push forward on our paths. That’s why a good mentor can make all the difference. He or she can help you get out of your head and rise to your fullest potential.

I asked Alison Martin-Books, Mentoring Expert, Founder and CEO of Diverse Talent Strategies and author of the book, Learning to Lead Through Mentoring how women should go about seeking a mentor. She shared with me the 5 questions female professionals should ask themselves to help find the right mentor.

  1. Why this person?
  2. Alison: In considering approaching a potential mentor, it is important first to consider what your goals are. What is it you would like to accomplish personally and professionally? Is there a certain skill you are trying to develop? Armed with this information, assess who might be a good fit to serve as a mentor. Seek out someone who has successfully accomplished what you would like to accomplish or someone who excels at the skill you are developing.

    When you feel you have identified someone who might be a good fit, reach out to that person to set up a call or invite them to coffee rather than first asking them to be your mentor, unless they are part of a formal mentoring program. Remember, this is a relationship and like all relationships, mentoring relationships grow over time at a natural pace.

  3. Am I able to work well with this person?
  4. Alison: As you get to know your mentor, you should also determine if they are someone you can work well with and build a ‘trusting’ relationship. As with any relationship, try to get to know the person to understand if your personalities mesh well and if you have similar values. Having said that, it is also good to recognize the importance of being able to work with a wide variety of people. So, approaching mentoring relationships with an open mind and being able to work with those with personalities that are different than yours is also critical. It is most important to determine what you can learn from this person and what you might be able to teach them.

  5. Does this person have the qualities of a good mentor?
  6. Alison: There are 6 competencies of a good mentor. Be sure to select a mentor who demonstrates these important traits. They are:

    1. Having the desire to help and support.
    2. A commitment to continual learning (Being motivated to continue developing and growing.)
    3. Having confidence and an assured manner.
    4. Ability to ask the right questions.
    5. Active listener.
    6. A willingness to provide constructive feedback.
  7. Can this person guide me toward my professional goals?
  8. Alison: If you have an understanding of your professional goals, it is important to select mentors who have relevant experience and a willingness to provide their feedback to help steer you in the right direction. A true mentor is someone who has relevant experience to share and ideally, from a place of success.

  9. Is this person successful?
  10. Alison: This is perhaps the most important question to consider. If you are seeking guidance and wisdom from another, it is critical they have demonstrated success on the topic they are mentoring about. While someone unsuccessful at achieving his or her goals certainly attains knowledge based on that attempt about what not to do, a true mentor has demonstrated success on the topic you are seeking. Do an honest assessment of the person giving you advice and take their opinion with a grain of salt if they do not have demonstrated success on the topic they are sharing their opinion on with you.

You can see why the NIIC’s WEOC Program has teamed up with Diverse Talent Strategies. Alison is an acknowledged thought leader and industry expert. Thank you, Alison, for sharing your expertise and insights into how to fit a right fit mentor.


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