Mentors and Your Career: How to Begin  

By Janice Brooks, Head of Organizational Development, IIBA  
Perhaps you have been thinking about finding a Mentor but are not sure how to go about selecting the right one. I hope this article will provide you with some useful information to start you on the path to finding the right person to help drive your career in the direction you choose. Finding the right person is so important and is not an easy process; however, it can be a very rewarding experience if you approach it the right way. Use your business analysis skills on yourself! Set up your mentor search as a small project and you will be well on the way to success.
The definition of a mentor according to the Oxford Dictionary is:  An experienced and trusted advisor.
Let’s apply this definition to the process of finding a mentor to work with you in order to help advance your career.
Experienced – Define Your Need
First off, any good Business Analyst knows that step one is to identify the need. Perhaps you can ask yourself some questions and look at your own experience to date. Here are some potential questions:
  • What knowledge gap am I looking to fill?
  • What experience do I need to gain in order to move to the next level?
  • What is my career time horizon in terms of the short-term (next year or two), mid-term (three to five years)and long-term (over five years)?
  • What specific goals do you have for yourself (next role or department)?
  • What has been identified on your performance review as an area for improvement?
  • Why do you want/need a mentor in the first place?  
  • What specific experience should this mentor have?
  • Is it experience in your current role, experience in the organization, or perhaps in another area or role?
  • What specific actions will you take with the advice/outcome of being mentored?
Take some time to really define the answers to these questions as they relate to your career and where you want to take it. Map these out to what you feel you need to get out of a relationship with a mentor and therefore, what experience that person should have in order to provide you with the right advice and direction. 
Setting your own objectives is a key step to ensuring you look for and find a mentor with the right experience and skills to support you. Without a specific set of objectives, you cannot drive the process and your mentor will not know how they can best help you. First and foremost be honest with yourself, and then make the commitment to act on the advice and direction from your mentor.  
Trusted Advisor – Identify the Right People
Next, find out if your current employer has a mentorship program. Some companies fully support the mentor/mentee relationship and will provide guidance, support and in some cases even help in pairing people up. If not, then you may want to have a chat with your boss about your objectives and ask for support in identifying potential people who may have the right experience and who may be able to mentor you. Don’t be afraid to ask—looking for a mentor shows that you are serious about your job, are committed to the company, and tells your boss that you want to improve your current knowledge and skills.  
You can also take stock of your current connections at work and start to do some networking with those who you feel would provide great insights into the areas and/or topics you have defined for yourself. Assess the stakeholders for your mentoring “project”. Who do you think you would be comfortable working with? Be sure to identify key attributes of people you respect/admire in the workplace and look for people who exhibit those. Look around and ask yourself who you see as being knowledgeable and connected. Who does management identify as a key resource in many initiatives? Who is on the fast track? If you don’t currently know who to seek out, ask your colleagues and/or boss for suggestions.  
Finding a good mentor can be a bit like dating. Not all mentor/mentee relationships will work out. Some people will click right away while others may not. The key to any successful mentor/mentee relationship is trust. If you do not feel that you can trust the mentor you have chosen to allow open and honest dialogue as well as to provide you with sound advice and the direction you are looking for, it is time to graciously say good-bye and begin to look for someone else. Remember, it is up to you to direct and manage the relationship and take accountability for the outcomes.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone to be your mentor; generally people love to help others and the person may be honoured to be asked. The process can be fairly simple and painless if you approach it with your objectives in mind. Offer to set up time to talk over lunch or a coffee. Let the person know why you have chosen them, if they agree to be your mentor and you feel comfortable with them, and then you can map out your objectives and begin to set up time to begin focused discussions. 
Depending on your needs and the mentor’s available time, you may want to set up a formal process where you have regularly scheduled meetings, or you can work this on a more informal basis where you reach out to the mentor as you come across problems or pieces of work you would like to ask them about. Always be respectful of the person's time and ensure that the plan will really work for both of you. You should also set up regular check-points (like key milestones) to discuss your relationship and how you are progressing towards your original objectives. A mentor/mentee relationship can be as short as six months or last as long as two years. Some even continue over a lifetime, however that is rare! 
Finally, be sure your personal styles are well-suited to success. The best mentor I ever had was a person who never answered my questions, rather asked me further questions to direct me to the right places to seek my own solutions. He never turned me away, always took the time to really listen (that means listening without allowing distractions), and even though he didn’t give me the answers, I realized that was exactly what I needed to become more confident in my own instincts and ability to develop new relationships in the workplace. I trusted him to keep our conversations confidential (which he always did). He really directed me to the right answers while at the same time provided me with lifelong skills that have served me very well to this day. I will always respect him for teaching me these skills and am very fortunate to have had someone take the time to help me. Best of all, he was happy to help me.
I do hope this information helps you to map out your own search for the right mentor.
Should you wish to read more about mentoring, check out the IIBA Online Library, free to all members of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA).