Qualities That Make a Good Mentor
Everyone needs a mentor in their career, if not several. Just like you want the kind of friends who can successfully guide you through life’s twists and turns—like how much you should spend on your next apartment or whether or not you should get bangs—you want people who can provide that same level of support in your career. Mentors can be valuable in just about any stage you’re in, whether you’re job searching, getting adjusted in a role, looking to move up, or exploring a new and intimidating path. However, what exactly makes for great mentor-ship? We’ll let you in on the secret formula to finding and keeping the perfect mentor for you.
What Are the Qualities of a Good Mentor?
Not all mentors are created equal. The best mentors share some essential qualities. You’ll want to look for these attributes in anyone you’re thinking about building a mentor-mentee relationship with. If you’re looking to be a better mentor yourself, these qualities are worth noting.
- Relevant Expertise or Knowledge
It may seem obvious, but your mentor should, more often than not, have some relevant background. Maybe they’re a few levels or titles ahead of you (say, a VP of sales while you’re an account executive) or have worked in the space you’re interested in for some time. However, they should be able to help propel you forward because they’ve been there, seen the landscape, and know what it takes to be successful.
“Having some commonality can also be helpful because that’s usually what can bring that relationship together,” Dea adds.
One thing to watch out for: This person shouldn’t be more than five or 10 years ahead of you. Someone who’s 20 or 30 years out has a wealth of experience to share, sure, but they may also be so removed from where you are that they can’t relate to your situation and provide accurate advice. The modern workplace is constantly changing, so what was common practice in your mentor’s prime may no longer be relevant.
- Enthusiasm for Sharing That Expertise
Just as crucial as your mentor having expertise is them being willing to share it with you. They shouldn’t be someone who begrudgingly hands over knowledge and expects figurative payment in return, nor should they reveal things in a vague, manipulative fashion. Instead, they should be open and excited to spread the word.
The best mentors give advice not because they like to hear themselves talk, but because they genuinely want others to benefit from the hard-won wisdom they’ve learned over the course of their careers.
- A Respectful Attitude
You don’t want someone who criticizes you harshly and unconstructively, mistreats you or others close to you, and ultimately gives you a bad name. That makes for an unproductive and frustrating partnership.
Also, on the rare occasions when good mentors act in a less-than-respectful manner (look, we’re all human), they acknowledge it and apologize authentically.
- Eagerness to Invest in Others
“Mentoring is an investment. No one gets paid to do it in their day job,” explains Dea. Because there’s no real incentive, you’ll want a mentor who finds genuine joy in helping others.
Great mentors realize that they’re playing a long game, and as a result, are patient in how they guide others down their path. They don’t expect immediate gains, and they don’t give up easily. More importantly, they care about maintaining and growing their professional relationships.
Finkeldei, having a mentor isn’t about becoming the person—instead, “you’re aspiring to have their skills and to gain the knowledge that they have.” Everyone’s seeking their definition of a successful career, and chances are yours will look much different than your mentor’s. Rely on them for guidance and encouragement, but make sure you’re continuing to do what feels right for you.