Julie Shenkman
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How can you give your career a jumpstart? Find a mentor. It's one of the best ways for young professionals to learn about the ins and outs of an industry or company. Many organizations sponsor an official mentorship program. If your employer does not, be sure to go out on your own and find willing professionals who can teach you the ropes, as well as inspire you to achieve success within the company. When deciding on a mentor-or mentors-it's important to follow a few simple guidelines to get the best results out of your arrangement:

Value strength in numbers.

There is no rule saying you can only have one mentor. In fact, many of the most successful professionals have developed mentor-like relationships with a number of different leaders. You may admire one supervisor for their public speaking skills, and another for their ability to balance work and life. Have both of them as mentors and you'll get the best of both worlds. Every quality mentor you establish is another opportunity to learn a skill or gain a new perspective. This also usually means you will require less time from any one person. But don't go overboard-too many mentors mean less quality in a relationship. Keep your list diverse and smart, choosing the professionals you think you can learn the most from in different areas.

Get out there on every level.

Mentoring programs usually suggest a co-worker who is at least two levels above you on the corporate network, or with 5-10 years more experience than you. But it can be very helpful to seek out mentors on more than one level, who can give you different perspectives within the company. It also helps to branch out to other sources for your mentors; try members of local business associations and your business school professors instead of limiting yourself to employees within your own company. These other mentors are more likely to provide guidance and help throughout your entire career, no matter where you are working.

Know what to expect from a mentor.

A mentor can only do so much for you. Most are willing to teach, coach and inspire. But it is not a mentor's job to help you get a promotion or get you out of trouble if you violate company policy. Never take advantage of your relationship with a superior. Value their trust and ethics and don't put them in an uncomfortable position-you may lose a mentor in the process.

Keep an open mind.

While you can't expect too much from a mentor, it is important to not limit what you are willing to learn from them. You may have developed a mentorship to learn more about a specific profession, but you may discover your mentor has a lot to teach you in terms of company history or handling stress. Be open to new ideas they may have, or other topics that they think will be helpful for you in your career. A mentor will have a significant amount of experience, and will happy to pass along everything they can to someone who is willing to learn.

Be willing to return the favor.

Some day you could be in a position to mentor someone else. Keep in mind what your mentorship has done for you and how you can help others in a new profession. If your company does not have an official mentor program, maybe you could coordinate one. A good mentor is an invaluable part of a successful career, and being a mentor completes the circle of a truly successful career.


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