About a week or two ago, I wrote an article about why it’s great to have a career mentor, if you haven’t read it, yet then I shall link it for you here. It was only natural for me to follow up that post with this one on the qualities to look for in a mentor.
Could there be good mentors and bad ones? Are there traits to look out for? Are there traits to avoid?
The answer is yes, yes, and yes!
Below, I shall be answering these three questions so when you are ready to get a mentor, you know exactly what to look for. Without further ado, let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
Qualities of a good career mentor 1. Willing to Mentor
Seems simple enough doesn’t it? Although that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have seen forced mentorship programs and I can tell you right now that they don’t work. Mentorship is something that is 100% voluntary for both parties. The Mentor has to be willing to do the job otherwise the whole endeavor is dead in the water.
With that scary intro out of the way, it should be clear that willingness is number one on this list. It is the make or break of a mentorship relationship. You are looking for someone who has either shown interest in mentoring in general or someone who has taken an interest in mentoring you specifically.
Qualities of a good career mentor 2. Compatible Personality
Another quality of a good mentor is a personality that is compatible with yours. If you and the person you are eyeing as a potential mentor can’t get along, then the mentorship relationship won’t work.
What do I mean by compatible personality? I mean, if you are very blunt and direct then you need a mentor who is equally blunt and direct. It will be hard to grow when you are someone who likes being given feedback in a direct way when your mentor has a dodgy way of giving feedback, right?
On the flip side, if you are someone with delicate feelings, then you probably don’t want someone who is brutally honest. You need someone who can sugarcoat the way they land harsh criticism.
Compatible personality could apply to any number of personality traits. The best way to find someone to be compatible with your personality is for you to write a list of three personality traits that your mentor must have, then start from there.
Qualities of a good career mentor 3. Similar values
This is a huge one in my opinion. First, for the record, what are values? I would define values as underlying principles that guide/influence how we think and act. What values do you hold dear? Could be integrity, could be respected, and could be hard work. Whatever values you hold the dearest, your ideal Mentor must hold dear as well.
Let’s explain this using an example. For instance, one of your values is integrity. People of integrity do everything above board and take great pride in doing the right thing and being people who you can take at their word. Now imagine having a mentor without integrity. Someone who says one thing then goes behind your back and does something totally different. Someone who does things like embezzling and padding transactions etc. In my mind, this mentoring relationship could go one of two ways. Either the mentee says it won’t work out and opts out of the mentorship or they learn how to be shady like their mentor.
I mean, show me your friends and I will tell you your character right? Your mentor quickly becomes a very influential person in your life. They are meant to help you grow so make sure that they are helping you grow in the right direction.
Qualities of a good career mentor 4. Honest & Direct
Another quality a mentor should have is being honest and direct. Mentors exist to help their mentees grow in whatever area they have agreed on. This means that they exist to provide support and constructive criticism. It would be pointless to have a mentor who clapped at everything you did. A mentor who never challenged or criticized you. That would be a waste of their time and yours.
A good mentor gives you constructive criticism. They tell you when you are doing well and when you are doing poorly. They make sure you know what they think. This honesty and directness are what will help you grow.
For the record, constructive criticism is when someone points out your shortcomings and then tells you how to rectify them. Everything else that falls short of that is destructive criticism and is not helpful.
Qualities of a good career mentor 5. Helpful
A good mentor is helpful. They are always willing to help. Of course, they have their careers and lives, however, when you need advice or some industry knowledge, or an introduction or just help with opening certain doors that only they can open for you as your mentor, they are willing to help.
Qualities of a good career mentor 6. Ambitious
Good mentors have to be ambitious. They need to have very high goals set for themselves. They should be someone who you look up to because of their ambitious dreams. This ambition is important because it will rub off on you as the mentee and help you stay motivated and get to where you want to be.
Qualities of a good career mentor 7. Great listener
A good mentor should also be a good listener. Active listening will play a big role in whether a mentor is good or bad at mentoring. Mentors need to be active listeners to pick up on things you are saying and things you are not saying to be the most helpful to you. A good mentor will pick up on things that you are filtering and use them to challenge you.
Sometimes the stories created in our minds designed to allow us to remain mediocre reveal themselves in the things we don’t say. A good mentor should pick up on that and use it to push their mentee forward.
Qualities of a good career mentor 8. Mutual learning
A good mentor doesn’t view themselves as the end-all-be-all. They know that it is a mutually beneficial relationship. They know that they can learn from you as much as you can learn from them and that there should be open communication on both sides.
It’s no fun learning under someone arrogant because of what they have accomplished. You want someone who is eager to learn and treats you as a learning resource just as much as you treat them as such.
Qualities of a good career mentor 9. Professionalism
This should honestly be higher on the list. A good mentor is a professional. A good mentor should not be trying to take advantage of their mentee in any way. They should not be asking for strange favors from their mentees and should not under any circumstance try and get sexual favors in exchange for their industry expertise.
If they try something shady you need to have enough self-respect to drop them like a hot potato and try with someone else.
A mentor-mentee relationship is a very professional relationship and should be treated as such by both parties.
Qualities of a good career mentor 10. Industry expert
A good mentor is also an industry expert. As far as the industry is concerned, they should know more about it than you. Their knowledge is supposed to help you better navigate as a newbie. They can educate you on industry practices that only people who have been in the industry for a long time know about.
Several industry-specific things aren’t in any textbook, that isn’t taught in any classrooms, and those are the things you want to learn from your mentor. For instance, creating and nurturing customer relationships, navigating office politics, industry best practices, and ambition versus maintaining a good work-life balance.
At the end of the day, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. Selecting a mentor is a long process. What you shouldn’t do is rush it. Also, make sure that you are also in a place in your career where you feel like what will help you get to the next level is having a mentor because you don’t want to waste your time or theirs.