Career Advice

How to Find and Keep a Mentor

mentorA mentor is someone with a lot of experience who advises a less-experienced colleague. The one with the limited knowledge is referred to as a protégé’.  A good mentor-protégé relationship is mutually beneficial.  Protégés benefit from knowledge, direction and introductions to people who could cause their career to rapidly trend upward. Mentors have the altruistic satisfaction of watching a student become a master, an opportunity to strengthen their own leadership skills and a chance to see their profession with a fresh perspective.

A few ways a mentor can help a protégé specifically are:

1. A mentor can advise you on your academic pursuits. (Will you be able to find a job in your field of study by the time you graduate?)

2. A mentor can advise you on your career path.  (Should you accept that job offer? Is that company the best fit for your long-term goals?)

3. A mentor can help you stay competitive. (Is the new technology merely a fad or, something I should investigate?)

So, if you recognize the need for a mentor and would like one, here are a few suggestions on how to pursue (and keep) one.

Find a mentor that keeps up with the market

Target someone you think is quite knowledgeable and stays on the cutting edge of new technologies and trends in your industry. So, how do you do that? I suggest a bit of research. Let’s say for example that you have an interest in “infotainment in cars.” For those who don’t know what that is, I am referring to IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) also known as ICE (in-car entertainment). No matter what you call it, it’s the hardware in a car that provides audio/visual entertainment as well as navigation.

This field of tech is pretty hot and getting hotter by the second in this country. However, it’s been outside of the American borders for some time. When I do a search on Google Trends, I see the term “infotainment” has been searched upon quite a bit beginning in 2004. However, search traffic around that term did not really kick into high gear until 2011. Its been trending upwards ever

Okay, its one thing to jump on the bandwagon and quite another to be an early adopter. I wonder who was among the first to really trumpet the virtues of infotainment tech? To find that out, I go back to Google and search for articles where someone was talking about infotainment in cars between January 2006 and December 2007.

To do this:

1. I add my keywords.

2. I click the “Search tools” button.

3. I mouse over the “Any time” link. When I do, multiple options appear. I choose “Custom range…” and input the dates I have an interest in. google-time-search

Among the results was an article from Wired magazine, “Is satellite video coming to your car soon?” Featured in the article was BMW’s head of telematics research, Dr. Hans-Jörg Vögel. He discussed an experiment where he put a satellite dish on top of a car and implemented a system that lets you download, play and record any content you would otherwise get on your TV or radio. Wow! Pretty cutting edge and that was in 2007. Is he still in the game? I wonder. I google his name and find his profile on a social network.

Yup! The good doctor is still working his automotive magic and what is even more noteworthy, I now have a means of directly connecting with him. Okay, I want to network with him, but I don’t want to blow the opportunity either. So, how do I proceed? I approach them with praise.  I introduce myself with an accomplishment. I ask a small favor. I leave singing their praises with the hope that a long-term connection has been formed. Check out the template letter below.

Dear X,

You don’t know me but, I’m a fan of your work. You see I have a deep interest in (insert the kind of career you are pursuing here) and have been fortunate enough to (very quickly, cite a career-related accomplishment you are proud of).  I notice that you have been involved with  (insert the kind of career you are pursuing here) since (date). I am referring to (insert link to an article or other piece of content that references their expertise) and (insert link to an article or other piece of content that references their expertise). Very impressive!

I know I could learn a lot from someone like you. I also realize that your time is most likely, very limited.  May I ask that you grant me the favor of recommending a book, a podcast and/or a conference that you think would benefit someone pursuing a career in (insert the career you are pursuing here)? I would be most appreciative.

Again, the strides you have made in (insert industry here) are very impressive. Keep up the good work. Thank you for your time and consideration. 



In the happy event that the person I reached out to responds with a book recommendation or some other suggestion, I (a) send them a quick thank you, (b) put their advice to immediate use then, (c) follow-up with them after performing it. Gradually, over time, this develops into a conversation and ideally into a mentor-protégé relationship.

Go ahead and try it! Its not a quick fix and takes time, but the payoff is worth the wait.