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How to Choose a Career Mentor

Getting your degree is one critical component to moving ahead in your desired career path. Another aspect to consider is working with a career mentor. Kimberly Williams, Strayer University South Raleigh Campus Dean, explains the ins and outs of choosing a mentor.


Williams says that an ideal career mentor is preferably someone in the position you’d like to have someday. “Even if they’re not in the exact position you hope to hold, they’re going to be current in their industry, so they’ll know what’s expected, what’s new, and what you need to be aware of,” she says. “They’ll have insights that someone outside the industry won’t have.”

If the mentor holds the position you hope to attain, they can provide even more detailed information. “They’ll be able to let you know what specific types of skills are needed for that position, where to look for interviews, and how to prepare for them,” Williams says. “The right mentor will give you a thorough picture.”


It’s not a guaranteed result, but it’s possible that working closely with a career mentor could lead to networking opportunities. “If the mentor has worked with you closely and knows you, they may feel open to recommending you,” she says. “It can make a huge difference to have them present you as a viable candidate to potential employers.”


A subtler aspect of working with a career mentor is the potential to have a role model for your own career (and sometimes personal) development. “A good mentor is a leader by example,” says Williams. “They’re experienced in a certain area, and they’ll provide insight on opportunities as well as honest feedback and constructive criticism.”


Williams says that while most universities provide an array of support services and coaching, mentors are not usually assigned—meaning that the student needs to find one on their own. That will take research, whether through university or industry resources, to find the right companies and the right people at those companies. It can also take several tries to find someone who is right for you, and who has the time and ability to take on a mentorship role. “Keep in mind that it usually doesn’t take more than 10 minutes of conversation to know if someone is right for you,” Williams explains.

To begin your search, consider working through these resources:

  • Friends and family. It’s definitely not unheard of for someone to know someone who knows someone, and personal connections can make it easier to open doors.
  • LinkedIn. Not just for those you’re already connected to, but to see who they may be connected to.
  • Alumni associations. Who also attended your alma mater, and what career path did they follow?
  • Professional associations. You should be researching these anyway in terms of general career exploration and growth, but they can also be useful for finding mentorship leads.
  • Company mentor programs. Some companies now offer mentor programs. Check with your Human Resources department to see if that’s the case for your company.


To some degree, the qualities you want to look for are going to be specific to you, depending on your personality type. However, Williams suggests several universal things to consider when approaching a mentor/mentee relationship. A good partnership:

  • Involves the mentor holding you accountable. Pushing you to be your best is in your best interests.
  • Helps you recognize your potential. Sometimes we’re blind to our own best qualities, but a good mentor will identify them and help you figure out the best way to use those qualities.
  • Creates a safe space where you can share the good, the bad, and the ugly. Career journeys are rarely a straight upward trajectory. Setbacks are common. A good mentor will listen to you with an open mind. That goes two ways, though—the mentor should be free to discuss the pros and cons of your industry with the expectation that you are willing to consider them.
  • Engages in open, honest communication. This goes for both sides. “Transparency gets the best results,” says Williams. “The mentor has been there, done that, and understands the good and bad. Both sides should be willing to share what they know and what they’re learning.”

Working with a mentor can have intangible, yet powerful results. Finding the person who wants to help you achieve the best outcomes for your career can make a profound difference. And it’s not just networking; it’s about understanding yourself and learning what it takes to succeed.

Learn more about Strayer University’s online degree programs.

Category: Motivation & Inspiration

Published Date: April 19, 2019