Most people talk about mentors. I used to be envious of my friends who had mentors. It seemed like they were ahead of me in one way or the other because I knew the benefits of having one. I figured that because of my limited knowledge in getting a mentor, I would not be getting mentored in the near future. You’ve probably gone through the effective components of great mentorship relationship in the previous article (see here) and, like me a few years back, you are wondering “how do I get a mentor? Where do I find them?” If you have a mentor(s), good for you! All you have to ensure is that you get the most out of the mentorship relationship and also add value to it. If you don’t have a mentor, then indulge me as I give you a few ideas.
“Do I need a mentor”? This is the first question you need to ask yourself before you start looking for one. For example, to find a mentor, you have to have certain aspects that you want to achieve whether it is career growth or personal goals. You might be able to achieve some of your goals without mentors but to achieve greatness you need;
- Experience beyond your years
- Networks beyond your experience
- Insight beyond your knowledge
Often, a single, sound piece of advice from a mentor can be the catalyst that changes your frame of reference forever.
To start with, what image does the word mentor bring to your mind? A man/woman officially dressed in an expensive suit, sitting behind notable desks in their fine interior-designed office on the top most floor of the building doing remarkable things?
Well, he/ she could be. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of value one gets from having such senior level persons such as CEOs as mentors. However, the limited time available to such mentors means structure of both the approach and the mentorship has to be very targeted. The issue of availability also ties in as a challenge. It becomes easier for those working on similar tasks and companies. In such a case then what you need is structured mentorship programs. For instance, as a woman in Science and Engineering, programs such as TechWomen would be convenient as they link women to mentors who work with them for a certain period. The women then leave and become mentors to others. This, to a large extent, is what organizations like AWSE also do, on different scales.
But let’s face it; in reality, finding a mentor is not usually a strictly organized process. These are usually gradual relationships with no specific titles. You will need someone who can be available when you need them. The fore mentioned are usually very busy people and for you to be consistent enough to the point of being noticed can be a very long unproductive journey. I go to coffee with my mentors. They are people I ask for guidance and advice. They are people I have to call before I make any big decisions. They range from my peers to CEOs. One thing is clear though, there are no stringent procedures. Yes, we have set goals to achieve in a given time; yes, I take charge (most times, sometimes I have to remind myself), but real guidance does not happen in a classroom setting.
I have mentors who inspire me to learn new things. I also have mentors who are experts who offer guidance, direction and motivation in my areas of interest. Lately, I have been looking for a mentor (not just a teacher) for my next hobby! Learning a guitar! I will share my progress on this. So aside from the structured mentorship programs available, here are a few tips on how and where to find a suitable mentor.
- At home
Yes your family. Your family members can be your mentors. Do you have an aunt who has made it? Do you have an elder sister who is in your career field or different field and she has gone through some of the career challenges you are going through now? Is your parent a CEO of company X….the list is interminable. Our family members are our first mentors and role models. We should also be able to find inspiration in them for our personal and career growth. Often times, all you need to do is approach them and set the goals you need to achieve. Remember the approach we discussed earlier (see here), it still applies here. My aunt was my inspiration to join university for my first degree. I would still have joined regardless, but she put that thirst in me…you get the idea? She was the first of her siblings to join university and she seemed to know a lot of things. I aspired to be just like her. She inadvertently became my mentor. There are many more that I look up to, in business and my engineering profession. Find that family member who can inspire and motivate you.
- At school-Teachers and lecturers
This goes without dispute. Teachers are the next mentors after our family. From elementary school to college, teachers have always been people we look up to for career guidance and choices. It is easy to locate partying joints and eat outs when you join campus or school at any level but you need to remember that it is your duty to find mentors too. Once you locate them, approach them, ask relevant questions and let the relationship grow. It is good to remember respect in this case. Visit for your mentorship only during office hours when the mentor has time. Scheduling is important. For younger students, teachers will usually provide general guidance on careers. For more advanced students in tertiary schools, your teachers are most likely to be in your field of specialization and thus you can get more specific guidance on your career journey.
- Your peers
Mentorship is about learning new things and leaving your comfort zone. Your peers are usually great in this area. Peers can provide recognition, encouragement, and support. They can undoubtedly provide fun and friendship. They can probably even provide you with access to relevant connections and experts in your career who might be their friends or relatives or workmates etc. And if your peer group is diverse and motivated enough, some of them will even be able to train you or share experiences that you might not have. Go for it! That is mentorship! Personally, for most things related to latest technology, I look up to my peers. I try to stay informed, nonetheless, one or two of my peers will always know something ahead of me and learning about it is worth it.
- At your work place
Mentorship at work is important because it improves your productivity, reduces frustration, and helps in career growth as an employee and much more. Both the mentor at the workplace and the organization benefit too. As a woman in Science and Engineering, you need to let go of stereotypes that women don’t hold senior positions at work.
A quote from Sheryl Sandberg “The gender stereotypes introduced in childhood are reinforced throughout our lives and become self-fulfilling prophesies. Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t.”
You need to approach mentors at work who will help you grow and take up leadership positions. Some organizations have mentorship programs that support others do not have such programs. You can have a mentor in both your department and outside your department. Select a mentor who is a good role model. Look for someone who is not only famous or successful, but who has a reputation for character and solid principles at the workplace. One that you can admire as well as emulate.
“We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.” ~ Epictetus
About the Author
Keziah Khalinditsa is an upcoming engineer and business woman (Managing Director at Lamworld Technologies Pty Ltd-Kenya). Her interests are to work with fellow engineers to eradicate poverty in African countries. She believes through engineering and technology, women can be part of something that will change the lives of their fellow women in Africa. She received her BSc. Degree in Biomechanical and Processing Engineering in 2014 and is currently a pursuing MSc. Agricultural Engineering (Mechanization) at Botswana College of Agriculture, Gaborone, Botswana. Miss Khalinditsa is currently working on an automatic borehole water management system for farms in Botswana with the aim of water conservation. Her motto is “to leave a mark bigger than me on this earth!”