Dear Matt: I've always heard that finding a mentor on the job is a good thing. Do you have any suggestions on how to go about finding a mentor?

Matt: Today's professional needs all the advantages they can get. That's why finding a mentor can be a valuable asset as you build your career.

The biggest mistake most professionals make is thinking that once they have five, 10, 15 years of experience - or more - that they no longer need a mentor. Mentors are valuable because they help share experiences, knowledge and perspective related to your career. Especially mentors who have done what you strive to accomplish. That's why it's important to find a professional colleague who can be a mentor.

The first thing to do is to establish your objectives for a mentoring relationship, says Carol B. Muller, CEO of MentorNet, (www.MentorNet.net); a nonprofit E-Mentoring Network for Diversity in Engineering and Science that works with various organizations to help develop tomorrow's technical talent.

Your Needs

What are your needs? Why is having a mentor the best way to address those needs? What kind of person will be able to serve as your mentor in meeting those objectives? What kinds of experience and background would the mentor need to have?

Where To Find Mentors

Do you have a supervisor who is teaching you new technology and new skills? You may not know it, but this person is acting as a mentor. Try and learn as much as you can from those who are leaders and successful within your organization. Do you have a previous boss or co-worker who you share ideas, problems and career goals with? This person is acting as a mentor. Are you active in industry organizations or networking groups? These peers can act as mentors. Do you seek out career advice on job-related message boards or forums? These contacts, although you may not know them, are also another form of mentors because they are willing to share their career or job-related experience with you.

Muller says employees at all levels can benefit from a mentor. Don't look to just one person as a mentor, but look to everyone in your network - and outside in your profession, as someone to possibly learn from.

"They can help you learn the ways of your organization, your profession, how to get things done, and make introductions to others that will be useful for your work," says Muller. "Perhaps even more important, good mentors serve unselfishly to help you think through what you want to do, where you want to go and why."


Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, and has nine years of experience reporting on the employment industry. The first Sunday of each month this column will answer readers' questions. E-mail questions or subject ideas to askmatt@startribune.com.