The question of why a career or professional mentor is important is often best answered by looking backward. I’ve had professional contacts ask me this question many times and I think the short answer is, because we have all benefited from the sage advice of a mentor at some point in our career, and it’s our obligation to pay that benefit forward. I’ve found that mentoring has given more to me than I’ve given in my time, advice and consult. It’s a reminder that we never know it all.

I recently shared some advice to a bright, young professional. She wanted to ask for a promotion, feeling that she was already doing the job. We talked about the framework of having that conversation with her manager. We talked about her confidence in having the conversation. We finished our conversation by agreeing that she wouldn’t ask her manager with a question in her voice; she’d deliver a well-planned speech that would leave her manager with the information he needed to present this idea to his leadership. She didn’t ask IF she could be promoted; she presented WHY it’s a benefit to the company to promote her. I was proud to see her find her footing. I helped her find her voice and it resulted in a leg up in her career and increased confidence.

When do you need a career mentor?

You can benefit from a mentor at any point in your career. At the beginning, you need the reassurance and courage to go for it. At the mid-point, you are evaluating what’s most important to you in your life and in your career, and any time you are making a career-altering decision. It could be about business or life — any challenge that would benefit from the wisdom and perspective of a mentor.

Which qualities should your career mentor have?

First and foremost, you should choose someone you trust and whose character, personality and career path you admire. Don’t worry about title or industry. A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to be in your field for your relationship to succeed. The importance of a mentor’s character and personality stems from the fact that you have to like the person who is mentoring you (you will be spending some quality time with them, after all) and that you respect their approach to both life and career. What’s more, it’s paramount that you trust them as you open up about your vision of your career and other intimate professional details.

Any successful mentor likely had (or still has) a mentor of his or her own. A good mentor knows they will benefit, too, but puts the mentee first and offer unfiltered advice; understanding that the investment is worth making. Some of the best advice given to me by a mentor was tough to swallow. Ultimately, however, it helped me grow into the person and professional I am today. For that, I am grateful, and I strive to be the same honest, factual guide in the lives and careers of those I mentor along their way.

What has your experience been like as a mentor or mentee? What critical piece of advice has a mentor given you? Share your experiences below.

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