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Career Advice

5 Steps to Finding a Mentor Who Isn't Your Boss

Posted by Julia Malacoff

Last Updated October 31, 2016

Sometimes, bosses/managers aren't the best mentors. Perhaps you don’t click on a personal level. Maybe he or she seems far too busy to take on the extra work of doling out guidance and support. Or it could be that you’re craving the perspective of someone outside your company. Luckily, there are plenty of other people who you can reach out to for career advice, and often they can be found in unexpected places. Maybe it's a former boss you’ve reconnected with, someone who has found success in a different industry, or a family friend who happens to have unique insight into your goals.

Here are five steps to establishing a mentorship in a less-than-obvious way.

1. Be really clear on what you want to accomplish.

Knowing exactly what you’re looking for guidance on will undoubtedly help you figure out what kind of person can realistically serve as your mentor, as well as give you the ability to clearly explain why you want a one in the first place. You don’t have to have every little detail of your ideal career trajectory figured out, but it’s important to have a basic roadmap of where you are, where you want to go, and the steps you think you need to take along the way to get there. Knowing this about yourself will allow you to think outside the box about who your potential mentor could be while still having some direction in what you’re looking for.

[Related: 5 Things To Do With Your Mentor That Don't Include Coffee]

2. Use your network.

Of course, you should definitely scour your professional network for potential mentors. Check out your connections and see if you can connect with anyone organically. Beyond that, you should also be utilizing your social network. Maybe you have a friend who works in your industry and they happen to know someone who could give you the kind of help you’re looking for. Don’t count out familial connections, either. If you’re a new grad, maybe your parents’ friends know someone who you could reach out to. There’s no one who is off-limits.

3. Look in other departments.

So maybe your manager or the head of your team isn’t your ideal mentor, but it’s possible that someone else in your company is. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a senior person in a different department or job function, since many key career skills are translatable from one job function to another, like management, leadership, and negotiation skills.

[Related: 4 Reasons You Need A Professional Mentor]

4. Reach out to past employers.

It’s possible that a former boss could be the perfect mentor. This is also a great way to keep up relationships within your industry, especially if your previous company is a competitor of your current one. Clearly, you refrain from sharing trade-secrets with the competition. Just to be safe, keep the conversations focused on tactile career advice.

[Related: 3 Easy Ways to Make Sense of Conflicting Career Advice]

5. Have an open mind.

A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to work in same industry. As previously mentioned, many important job skills are transferrable, and having an outsider’s perspective on what you do and where you are in your career could be just what you need. While it’s not completely necessary, ideally they would be in an analogous industry, for example journalism and public relations, medicine and public health, or nutrition and food service. That way, they can offer fresh inspiration that’s still relevant to your area of interest.

TELL US: Are you a mentor? How do you prefer to start a relationship with a potential mentee?