When it comes to work, everyone needs advice. Whether you’re not sure how to tackle an assignment or want to talk through an interesting job offer that came out of left field, there’s nothing better than having a few mentors to help you out along the way.
But, unless your company offers a formal mentorship program, it’s not always easy to find people like that. Who should you to turn to? And, more importantly, how do you approach them and build relationships with them over time?
The process is a little different for everyone—some mentoring relationships happen naturally, while others require extra effort. But there are three types of mentors that everyone should have—and we’ve put together a guide on how to get them.
Mentor #1: You in One Year
Think about your short-term career goals: Where do you want to be at this time next year? Look for a person who’s currently there, and seek her out to be your “where I want to be in a year” mentor. Ideally, this person is someone who’s been in your shoes and can easily relate to your current experiences.
This type of mentor is great when you need advice on the little things, like the best way to approach a project. And, especially if she works within your company, she can give you the insider scoop on who you should know and what specific tasks you should take on to get to the next level.
If you work for a large organization, you can usually find this kind of mentor just by socializing and getting to know people in your office. If you work for a smaller company or department, it can be tougher, but don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your network or at industry events—most people are happy to help out!
Start the relationship by taking her out to coffee and asking about her current job, how she got to where she is, and if she has any advice for you. After that, keep it casual: Hopefully you’ll be comfortable enough to reach out to her again as questions or issues come up.
Mentor #2: Your Five-Year Guide
While a one-year mentor is great for the day-to-day stuff, it’s also good to have a “where I want to be in five years” mentor. With a bit more experience under her belt, this person can offer you advice on advancing within your company or field, including the short-term goals you should be setting in order to get there.
When you’re seeking out this person, look at mid- to senior-level managers who are well-known and respected within your company. If you have an idea of someone who’s in your dream role, but don’t know her personally, find a colleague who does and ask for an introduction, or see if you can all grab lunch or drinks after work.
After that, though, keep your relationship with this mentor a bit more buttoned-up. Ask her for a meeting or coffee, and treat it almost like an informational interview. Have some questions ready to ask about her career path and how she got to where she is now. Then, see if she’d be willing to meet with you every quarter or so to discuss your career path. Most importantly, keep things professional, and make sure you don’t bring office drama into the mix. Hey, she may end up being your boss one day!
Mentor #3: Your Career Planner
Lastly, you should have a “what do I want to do with my career” advisor. This person may not be in your company, but should work (or have worked) in your industry. She should be someone who knows the tools of the trade and can consult you on big events and decisions, like switching jobs, working abroad, or exploring other career opportunities.
This type of mentor may take longer to find and will likely change throughout your career. This relationship will also probably grow organically—when you’re first starting out, it may be your favorite professor from college, or, later down the road, it may be a former colleague or boss. You can definitely have more than one of these types of mentors, too—it never hurts to have a few great minds on your team.
While it’s good to check in with this mentor regularly, it’s most important to consult her during times of transition. Share with her your goals, ask for her help in figuring out how to get there, and seek her advice on any major steps you’re considering, like going to grad school or accepting a new position.
Throughout your career, there will be lots of people you turn to for help and advice. But, by being strategic and identifying a few key mentors to be your “board of advisors,” you’ll make sure that advice is always steering you in the right direction.