What Makes A Great Mentor?

By Chris Kolmar
Dec. 4, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Not all choices need to be made alone. Many of us look for feedback and guidance, particularly when we make big decisions that affect our professional development. You want to grow and improve as you go along, but you don’t have to go it alone.

Reaching out to someone who understands your situation can help guide you down the right path.

That is why mentors are a crucial element to a successful career. If you can find someone in your workplace or your personal life who understands your situation, you’ll feel less alone and more in control of your choices.

Key Takeaways:

  • A great mentor is one who wants to help you grow, listens to your needs, and can give helpful feedback.

  • A great mentor is curious, adaptable, and respected by their peers.

  • There are 4 types of mentors: practical, coping, peer, and career.

  • To find a mentor, first consider your values, needs, and goals, then consider the type of mentor who fits.

What Makes A Great Mentor?

What Is a Mentor?

A mentor is someone who will work with you to help you achieve your goals. They can take a broad-view, long-range approach to your growth or help you under specific circumstances.

There are many types of mentors. They include:

  1. Practical Mentor. A practical mentor is one who will help you look for rational solutions to specific problems. For example, you may have a practical mentor to help you hire a new employee. In this care, your practical mentor might help you review applicants.

  2. Coping Mentor. A coping mentor is someone who helps you cope with challenges. They might be someone who you can confide in and approach in a discretionary manner.

  3. Peer Mentor. A peer mentor is someone who has a similar role to you. It is beneficial to find a peer mentor when you are new to a job since peer mentors have the immediate knowledge you need to succeed.

  4. Career Mentor. A career mentor is someone who will take a long-term outlook on your development. They ask about your goals and provide options on how to achieve them. Generally, this is a person who is older than you and in a high position in their profession.

In the end, mentors and mentees build trust with one another. The relationship is a two-way street and requires an understanding of the necessary traits that lead to many positive outcomes.

What Are The Traits Of A Great Mentor?

A good mentor has many defining traits. They include:

  1. Desire To Be A Mentor. This should be obvious, though sometimes it isn’t. A mentor needs to understand and be committed to their role. Mentorship requires a decent amount of time and space to build a relationship with the mentee. A half-hearted mentor would only get in the way and waste your time.

  2. Has Relevant Experience. A mentor will offer knowledge and feedback based on their own experience, which should be one you can relate to. However, their experience does not, and probably will not, perfectly match your own. Instead, you should be able to draw similarities and connections from your mentor.

  3. Empathetic Active Listening. Many people don’t listen properly. They wait until the other person is finished to say whatever it is they want to say. Sometimes they might not even wait for the other person to finish. A good mentor will not do this. A good mentor will be empathetic and focused on what you have to say.

  4. Diplomatically Direct Feedback. A poor mentor may be too nice and try not to say anything confrontational. Conversely, a poor mentor may be too rough and say something that does more harm than good. Feedback is tricky to offer. A good mentor knows this and will tailor feedback so that it gets to the point without distractions. Remember, your time is valuable, and a good mentor will want to maximize your time together.

  5. Respectful Personality. Respect (giving and receiving) goes far in life. Your mentor should be someone of the most utmost respect and integrity. They will respect your time, your personality, your questions, your experiences, and they will find a way to analyze it in a way that builds a sense of respect for yourself and the world around you.

  6. Devotes Time To You. When you meet with your mentor, your mentor should be focused solely on you. Even if your mentor is a busy person, they still will carve time out of their schedule to work with you and your needs. A good mentor will be good with time management and able to be entirely present when with you.

  7. Always Prepared. When you meet with your mentor, your mentor should be ready. This means that they could have material or discussion points prepared. It could also mean they are ready to listen to you and work with what you give. A good mentor will not be caught off guard regardless of how the meeting goes.

  8. Able to Adapt. One reason a good mentor should be prepared is because they need to be able to adapt quickly to new circumstances. Adaptability is a huge component to success, where all great business leaders, regardless of industry, can work with the dynamic changes going on in the world around them.

  9. Growth Mindset. A growth mindset is a belief that we can always learn and change, as opposed to the fixed mindset that we are stuck with our personality indefinitely. A good mentor will believe in a growth mindset because they want to help you grow and to grow themselves. Mentors have as much to learn as mentees in this relationship.

  10. Respected By Others. You should look to see how others view your mentor. A good mentor will be a role model for you and the community at large. Due to this, they are most likely involved in several organizations.

  11. Curious. Curiosity should drive your mentor in your conversations. Your mentor should want to know about you and what you do, and what you want out of life. A good mentor will also be curious in general. Their curiosity should be at the core of the desire to get the most of their life, both business and personal.

  12. Motivates. A good mentor should help you feel confident in yourself. To do this, a good mentor is there to be your cheerleader. Not just to your face but among others as well.

    They are there to give you the energy and direction you need to succeed. They are the ones to tell you that your dreams are within your reach with the right steps.

How To Find A Mentor

To find a mentor, you want to:

  1. Know your values, needs, and goals. Knowing these helps you target an appropriate mentor. Depending on your values, needs, and goals, you may need one type of mentor over another.

  2. Consider mentor type. For most professional mentors, you are likely looking for someone at your work. Decide what type of mentor you need. If it is a peer mentor, look for someone in a similar role. If it is a career mentor, look for someone older and with more experience who can provide you a different perspective.

    It is also possible to find mentors outside of your workplace. Potential places to look are industry conferences and partner organizations. This is one reason why it is important to have a wide network. That way, you will have a large pool of candidates to pull from. This will be helpful, especially if a potential mentor is too busy to guide you along.

    When you network, you will be able to compare candidates and find one that suits your needs and complements your personality. Take this person in your mind and consider how they match up to the qualities of a good mentor.

  3. Look for mentor traits. Take the above qualities and think them over. Think about how you would spot these traits in another person.

    Observe who they are as a person and how they interact with others. Remember, people’s actions speak far louder than words. Notice how this potential mentor behaves around people, particularly those beneath them in social and business standings. You can tell a lot about a person by how they act around those beneath them.

  4. Ask yourself questions. Take the traits of a good mentor and put them in question form. Ask yourself:

    • Would this person want to be a mentor?

    • How would their experience benefit me?

    • Are they respectful and respected by others?

    • How do they listen and give feedback?

    And so on. It is ok if your potential mentor does not hit every trait; nobody is perfect. However, they should cover a vast majority. You know you have a good pick when it seems like a no-brainer and the potential mentor hits all the marks.

  5. Approach. From here, approach your potential mentor. Or, if you are lucky, they will approach you. In either case, it is essential to establish what type of mentorship you will have at the very beginning. Set expectations with one another about the goals and structure of your relationship.

    Let it begin organically, and do not place too much pressure on yourself to make it work right away. Get to know one another, and remember the traits of a good mentor. See if your mentor does their part. If all goes well, then before long, you too will be happily learning and growing from and with each other.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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