The mentor-protégé relationship is a time-honored tradition, and the guidance of a trusted mentor is an invaluable resource at any phase of a business career.
During the course of a college education, a mentor can help provide direction and focus. In the internship years, or during the early years of employment, a mentor can help with day-to-day function in the business world. In the process of starting a business, a mentor can assist with planning and strategies. And even in the operation of a thriving business, a mentor can provide counsel for problem-solving and making important decisions. No matter the phase of one's career, it's never too soon, or too late, to seek the wisdom of a mentor.
Chances are an ideal mentor may be someone familiar: a college professor; a former co-worker; a trusted family friend; a neighbor; a fellow church member. In fact, one or more of these people may already be acting as a mentor to some degree, and the mentor-protégé relationship just may not have been made official yet.
Sources for Finding a Mentor
In the event that these likely sources yield no viable candidates, there are many other venues for finding a mentor. Most colleges and universities have mentoring programs or resources, so this would be a good place to begin. The local Small Business Administration (sba.gov) and the Chamber of Commerce may also be able to provide a list of potential mentors. Professional associations such as the Kiwanis, Soroptimists, or Rotary may offer mentoring as well.
If local networking sources do not provide a viable mentor, there are also many online resources. One of the best is Score.org, which is the website for the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). A keyword search using the terms "mentoring programs" or "find a mentor" will yield and abundance of results such as FindAMentor.org, and MentorNet.net.
Criteria for Choosing a Mentor
When researching potential mentors, it is important to create a set of criteria for choosing a good match. The first step is defining goals and objectives, and assessing individual needs and expectations. At the very least, a mentor should be worthy of respect and admiration in all aspects of his or her business and personal life. Willingness to commit to the mentor role, and availability for regular meetings, phone conversations and e-mail correspondence are also essential. Similar interests, goals, and field of expertise would be ideal, although it is possible to find a mentor outside one's professional sphere who is capable of providing general guidance and objective insight. One important note however: It is unwise to choose a supervisor or co-worker, since the mentor-protégé relationship should be based on the ability to freely express any issues in one's current business environment. It is also important to choose a mentor who is open-minded and willing to offer unconditional encouragement, rather than one who expects a protégé to abide by strict rules or coercive advice.