How to Find a Mentor to Help You Achieve Your Career Goals

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We often hear that we should find a mentor to help us achieve our career goals when trying to get a promotion or make a career change. The term mentor can also often be interchanged with coaches and sponsors, although these are very different things. We also have people in our lives who we may already see in these roles. These could be our line managers or supervisors. A mentor is someone who is typically more experienced than you as a mentee. They offer specific knowledge, skills or experiences to guide you with a specific goal. A mentor-mentee relationship can be formal with regular mentoring sessions, or it could be more of an informal relationship. Mentoring can benefit you if you would like to draw on the experience of someone else to help you navigate a career goal. For example, you may want to move from your lab-based role in academia to a role in the Pharma industry but are unsure how to do this. A mentor who works in Pharma industry could help you prepare and position yourself in the best way. So if you want to find a mentor, how do you go about it? Here are 4 ways you could try:

  1. Look at who you already know

In your immediate network, you may already have a mentor but don’t even know it! Mentoring is not always a formal, structured relationship. Your current line manager may already be mentoring you. Or, there could be another colleague at work who acts as your mentor. Do you regularly go to someone with specific questions? Do they give you career advice outside the scope of your work? If you are having regular discussions with someone about your career goals, you may already be cultivating a mentoring relationship. It’s good to recognise this so you know you have someone to go to with specific questions and for advice. You could formalise the relationship with regular sessions if you like, but you don’t have to. If your line manager is acting naturally as your mentor, you are probably having regular catch-ups with them anyway. If you don’t already have someone in your immediate network that is acting as your mentor, see if you can build this type of relationship with someone. It should be someone you respect and who perhaps has followed a career path you aspire to. A mentor is someone you can learn from and ask questions to learn about their experience. You could directly ask someone to be your mentor, or you could build a relationship more naturally through reaching out to someone for advice and keeping in contact with them regularly. Looking at who you already know works well if you want to progress or develop within your current organisation.

  1. Explore your wider network

If you want to move industries or change roles, it would be worth tapping into your wider network to find a mentor. For example, if you are in academia and are interested in a role in Science Communication but don’t know where to start, speaking to someone already in this field would be worthwhile. If you don’t already know someone in this field, find out if anyone you know has a connection there. This person could effectively mentor you into making this career transition if they were willing to. Again, you could make this into a formal arrangement e.g. meeting up once a month to discuss how to achieve your goals. This could be virtual or in person. Or, you may just contact them ad-hoc when you have a specific question or challenge coming up. This really depends on how much time you both can commit, and is worth asking about when you have the initial conversation.

  1. Find a mentoring scheme

Many workplaces have structured mentoring schemes where employees are matched with a mentor according to specified criteria. You often have to apply, giving details of your background and goals, and what you are looking for in a mentor. Sometimes, these schemes are part of wider groups with specific aims e.g. women’s leadership groups. You could also search online for mentoring schemes in your local area or virtual schemes. It takes a bit of the leg work out for you as they will have a pool of mentors who are already willing to invest their time in mentoring someone. If they are from your workplace, they will have a good understanding of the context you are operating in. However, note that if you want to move out of your current organisation, consider whether you would be better off with a mentor external to your workplace.

  1. Try reverse mentoring

Another method you could try is reverse mentoring. This is where you offer your help to someone else who needs it, who may be more senior to you. There might be specific skills that you have, that those in more senior posts haven’t developed through their careers. This is especially true with areas like digital skills. If there is someone you feel could be a good mentor to you and you can offer something to them, you could build a mutually beneficial relationship. You can start by offering them your knowledge or skills in your area of expertise, and then see what you can learn from them too! For a mentoring relationship to be successful, you need to have specific goals and intentions as a mentee. Be proactive and keep your mentor updated on your progress. Consider what value you can offer them too. If you can find a mentor, it could be the key to making a successful career change or progressing your current role.  

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, watch our webinar on How Science Graduates Can Get a High Paying Job Outside the Lab Even if You Have Little to No Work Experience.  

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