Professionals in numerous categories suggest that mentors help pave the road to success. But the point isn’t to find anyone with knowledge of our targeted industries; it’s to find the right person who understands our goals and aspirations, then suggest the appropriate route to take.

Anjuli Sastry and Andee Tagle offer thoughtful suggestions in an NPR article, including that mentoring is often an informal process. “One of the trickiest things about mentoring is that it’s often informal,” they write, “and that can make it difficult to find an entry point. Since we know that women and people of color face discrimination at higher rates than white men do in certain fields like STEM, it can be especially helpful for women and people of color to intentionally seek out mentors.”

The authors list several excellent suggestions that include knowing your short- and long-term goals before seeking a mentor, making the “ask,” doing research, developing an awareness of your networks, and understanding the difference between mentors and sponsors.

Your Short- and Long-Term Goals

Understanding what you want to achieve is essential, according to Sastry and Tagle. “The more specific you are with your goals, the easier it will be to find the right mentor. One strategy to create effective, easily achievable goals is to work S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. Envisioning your dreams this way allows you to break down lofty ideas into individual goals that are easier to accomplish through short-term steps.” The S.M.A.R.T. tip sheet is courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity.

People who know you know your abilities. I have found this accurate and have garnered inspiration from many female and male colleagues with whom I work regularly. The writers also suggest ensuring these connections understand your field. Also, they point out the difference between mentors and sponsors: “Mentors give advice on but can’t give you a new job, raise, or promotion. In contrast, sponsors can do that for you. They can be a boss, recruiter, or even employer in a new industry. Don’t expect mentors to be sponsors, but they can put you in touch with sponsors. Mentors can also be in your life for the long-term, while sponsors are often more short-term.”

Making the ‘Ask’

In terms of getting a mentor, the NPR article says that asking is often the most challenging part. Most of us don’t like asking for things, so there’s a Stress that accompanies the process.  Sastry and Tagle offer a comprehensive list that’s worth reading: have an elevator pitch ready; ensure the right fit; understand the work your prospective mentor does; if communicating first by email, explain why you’re seeking them out; and accept that during these COVID-19 days, a video meet-and-greet can replace the in-person appointment.

Mentors Understand Business

Alison Doyle is a career job expert who writes for The Balance Careers, and her mentors have inspired her. “A good career mentor, just like my mentors, voluntarily provides career advice and assistance,” writes Doyle. “The relationship you’ll have with your mentor will be ongoing—your mentor can guide you throughout the life of your career. It’s a relationship that can last a very long time. A mentor can be indispensable both when you’re starting out and when you’re moving up the career ladder.”

Doyle admits that seeking the right mentor, especially one successful in your chosen industry, can seem intimidating. She has noticed that people are fearful, sometimes even considering themselves unworthy of help. But, she writes, “By asking a prospective mentor for help, you’re letting them know you admire them for what they do and that their career is in demand. It’s a good feeling, and many people are happy knowing their experiences and insights are valuable to others.”

Women support each other, which is one of many reasons they are improving our workplaces universally.

Talk to Friends

Consider completing your own “personal inventory” by sending asking your good friends to send you a letter listing 10 of your unique abilities. You might be surprised to see how people view you and what you may be overlooking about your own skills.

Hear the stories of extraordinary women in the book series Pearls: Women Who Radiate Success.