Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (www.wiley.com), Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy ... and Pays the Bills by Kerry Hannon, © 2012 by AARP.
Like most things in life, finding a mentor is a process. The right chemistry takes some trial and error. And there's no law that says you can only have one. Remember, you aren't looking for yes-men and -women, who support you no matter what. You want them to believe in your mission, but you need to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. No lip-gloss.
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Landing the right person to have in your corner may take some work on your part. But the resulting relationship can truly impact your life. A study published by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that both men and women who have a mentor behind them are more likely than those without one to ask their boss for a raise, or an assignment that pushes them out of their comfort zone that they haven't tackled before.
Ask yourself what you want in a mentor. Is it an expert who can help with a specific goal — finding a job, planning a second career, asking for a raise, say, or suggesting ways to spiff up your image with the proper dress for success attire? Do you want someone at your workplace who can be an advocate for your project or promotion, or someone on the outside who can act as a more general sounding board and big-picture guide?
Where to look for a mentor:
- Your employer may have a mentoring program. Check with the human resources department. Many big corporations — American Express, Cisco, Citi, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, General Mills, Intel, Morgan Stanley, Procter & Gamble, and Time Warner among them — offer sponsorship and mentoring programs.
- Outside the office, you can find mentors you have met through activities you're involved in. Consider neighbors, friends, and relatives. One person I call for guidance is my older sister. This works for me. She's smart, successful, and a good listener with clear advice and no hidden agenda.
- Your high school, college, or university's alumni association may offer a mentoring program.
- Professional associations often have mentoring programs to match members with experienced mentors. For example, local chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners (nawbo.org) offer mentoring programs. You can search for a local chapter on the site.
- Your local Rotary Club, the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) in your town, and the Chamber of Commerce near you are good resources. There are often lunches and other events sponsored by these groups who have guests whose wisdom you need. You might discover someone who is looking for a protégé and has expertise to lend free-of-charge and time to devote to lending a behind-the-scenes hand without seeing you as a competitor. The SBA also offers a Mentor-Protégé program designed to help small businesses compete for federal government contracts.
- SCORE (Score.org), a nonprofit association dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and to the formation, growth, and success of small business nationwide, is a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA.gov). Both working and retired executives and business owners donate time and expertise as business counselors. SCORE mentors will advise you for free, in person or online.
- The Association of Small Business Development Centers, a joint effort of the SBA, universities, colleges, and local governments, provides no-cost consulting and low-cost training at about a thousand locations. You might find a mentor in the mix.
- The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA.gov) offers a GSA mentor-protégé program that focuses on small business growth and development and subcontractor partnering relationships. An Advanced People Search on LinkedIn can lead you to a mentor. You might search for someone from your alma mater. College ties do bind. You type in a title and your university, for example, current vice presidents of marketing and attended Duke University. You can focus the search on your ZIP code or town, so you can connect with someone nearby.
Kerry Hannon, AARP's jobs expert, is a career-transition expert and an award-winning author.