woman and man in business meeting
From examining your professional circle to committing to the mentorship, there are several steps to take when searching for that right person to offer you professional guidance. — Getty Images/SDI Productions

For anyone looking to advance their career, a mentor can provide unparalleled insights for growing within the industry. But good mentors do more than just offer advice: They can also help make connections and open the door for new opportunities you may not have otherwise had.

According to Kerry Mitchell Brown, Ph.D., an Organizational Equity Strategist and Founder of KMB, mentorship is “the secret sauce of professional growth in any field.”

“It's not just guidance; it's about turning barriers into stepping stones for success,” Brown said. “Mentors give priceless insights you can't get from textbooks, classes, or even years on the job.”

If you’re ready to level up your professional life, here’s how to find a compatible mentor and establish a strong, successful mentor-mentee relationship.

[Read more: Top Executives Share Best Advice from Mentors]

Determine your professional goals to inform your mentorship needs

Most professionals seek a mentor to address specific career challenges or aspirations. Identifying these needs can inform the type of mentor who can best help you. Some common mentorship needs are increased industry knowledge, professional skills growth, goal-setting help, and expanded network connections.

It can also be helpful to think about your short-term and long-term goals. Where do you want to be in three months? What about five years? How can you get there? The more specific you are, the easier it’ll be to find someone who’s already accomplished a similar path that you’re looking to follow. Goal-setting methods, such the SMART goal framework and gap analyses, can be helpful starting points.

Tap into your network

Who do you know in your professional circle that you strive to be like? This doesn’t have to be someone who works at the same company as you or someone who has a role above yours. A mentor can be anyone who inspires you and whose work ethic and success you seek to mimic in your own way. Remember, you may find someone who has the same job or career path as you but doesn’t share your values, has different work priorities, or isn’t willing to help others. Just because someone is where you strive to be, doesn’t mean they’re the one to help you flourish, so think as broadly as possible. Inspiration can come from anyone with strong values.

[Read more: 10 Networking Groups for Entrepreneurs]

Identify why you want to work with a particular mentor

Observe and study the behavior of your potential mentor(s). Ask yourself why you want to be like them and what you think they can help you achieve. Todd Rigby, Director of Sales at Rajant, noted that the more you can learn from a mentor based on their experience, knowledge, and wisdom, the faster you can excel in your chosen profession.

“Many years ago, when working for a large company, I identified several people I thought of as mentors,” Rigby explained. “They each had specific qualities I wanted to learn from, and so I tried to absorb as much information as possible from each of them.”

Mentors give priceless insights you can't get from textbooks, classes, or even years on the job.

Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown, Founder and CEO of KMB

Reach out to your prospective mentors

When you’ve identified someone (or multiple people) who might be an ideal mentor, reach out to them for an informal meeting. Ask them to get coffee, join you on your lunch break, or grab a drink after work. If you are unable to make a face-to-face meeting happen, send an email about looking for a mentor and see if they would be willing to discuss further in a phone or video call. From there you can share your goals and talk about how you can observe your mentor and potentially help them with their work in exchange for their time and insights.

While you don’t have to formally ask the person, “Will you be my mentor?”, establishing the terms and expectations of your professional relationship can help them understand your needs. Be sure to let them know why you think they are the right person and what you hope to achieve through their mentorship.

And don’t be discouraged if your mentor turns down the opportunity: They could say no for reasons such as time constraints, other commitments, or a lack of interest, and that’s OK. Move onto another potential mentor and keep searching for a good mutual fit.

Build a relationship and be a good mentee

Once someone agrees to be your mentor, commit to building a relationship that benefits both of you. Remember, relationships are two-way streets: Don’t bombard your mentor with messages and questions only when you need something, and if you’re in a position to help your mentor or make a connection for them, make the offer.

Leigh Higginbotham Butler, CEO and Founder of Akina, explained that both parties in a mentorship need to value open communication, mutual respect, and learning for the partnership to be successful.

“It's about setting clear goals, being open in your chats, and keeping each other on track with commitments,” Butler said. “Always be ready to ask for feedback, jump on learning opportunities, and stay flexible to whatever comes your way.”

And don't forget to thank your mentor for all the guidance and advice — it can help strengthen your relationship and keep things moving in a positive direction.

[Read more: Tips for Becoming a Great Mentor]

This article was originally written by Sean Peek.

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