Career Path

Why It's So Hard to Find a Mentor

Studies show you’ll get paid more and have a longer tenure with a mentor by your side.

It’s one of the first tips we hear before entering the workforce: Find a mentor. A person who can help show you the ropes and open up his or her network to you. Who can light a fire under you when you need a push. Who can offer moral support when you are passed over for a promotion.

But in today’s workplaces, with a barrage of virtual connections and more individuals working remotely, finding that advisor can be quite complicated. Also, there are fewer built-in company programs to aid in finding a mentor; only one in four small businesses have a formal mentorship program, compared to 70% of Fortune 500 firms.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when seeking a mentor is thinking the relationship is hierarchical.

At the same time, workers are being asked to do more with less, making it difficult for experienced individuals to find time to help green professionals learn the tricks of the trade. And, in an ironic twist, the push for open-plan office spaces—which initially were thought to aid in collaboration—has actually caused workers to spend 73% less time in face-to-face interactions, according to new research from Harvard University. Such interactions are often cornerstones of mentoring.

Despite these challenges, studies show individuals with mentors have a longer tenure with their employers and receive higher compensation. “At the crux of it, what you’re doing is creating a strong relationship,” says Jill Jacinto, associate director of the career-brand company Works. Here’s how to create that connection.

Look beyond your walls.

Mentors can be found both within and outside of your own firm. If your mentor is outside the workplace, you may get a better level of objectivity and a broader view of how your industry or position works. Within the company, mentors can help you navigate office politics and offer insight into the culture. In an ideal situation, you’d have mentors both in and outside your company, to gain two perspectives.

Forgo your boss.

While it may seem natural to want your boss to become your mentor, particularly if you have a good working relationship, experts advise against that move. A boss’s first priority is to progress the goals of the organization and keep his or her own boss satisfied—not to ensure you’re growing as a professional. At the end of the day, your boss is concerned with your performance.

It isn’t a one-way street.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when looking for a mentor is thinking about the relationship as hierarchical—what can he or she do for me? You have to also think about what you can do for your mentor, says Debby Carreau, author of The Mentor Myth. One way to carry out this idea is actually not to try too hard to find a mentor. If you do the things you want to achieve—standing out among your peers and joining different industry groups—then a potential mentor could seek you out. This sort of arrangement ensures your mentor will be engaged in helping you, as opposed to simply going through the motions, Carreau says.

Enlist a sponsor.

Aside from getting a mentor, you also need a sponsor. Most people confuse the two, or have never heard of the latter. A sponsor is a higher-up individual in the company who is invested in your success. While a mentor advises, a sponsor advocates and can make the case to the powers that be for why you should be promoted. Need proof? According to research, people with sponsors are 23% more likely to move up in their careers than those without.

take our career resiliency quiz
take our career resiliency quiz