231 Erwin Road

My experiences as a Northern transplant down in Chapel Hill, NC, 2005. And now my experiences back up in NYC.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Step 1 - Get a mentor

Step 1, get a mentor, get many mentors.

When I first joined IBM, we were asked to find a mentor. This is a daunting task when you are new to a giant company, don't know anybody that's been working more the 6 months, and don't even know what you want to do with a career.

Three years later, I now have many people I turn to help give me direction. Some of these people are much older then me, some of these people are only a few years older then me, and some of them are even younger then me. In the later case, I wouldn't call them 'mentors', but more of peers that I use to hear different thoughts and feedback.

Having a few 'mentors' is important to seeing the bigger picture. A mentor should be somebody that has lots of experiences under their belt, is interested in sharing them, and has some common bond with you. I also think you want to diversify your mentors to get broad and unique perspectives. You diversify in the stock market right? Why not in your career.

So how does one go about getting mentors? Well, there's a number of ways, but you'll have to put some 'effort' into this. A simple and new way to do this is via blogging. If your company has an internal blog, USE IT. It is a powerful communications tool. If you have good ideas and you put them in your blog or as a comment in another blog, it WILL get noticed. You might not realize it at first, but people will start to recognize your name if they agree (or disagree) with your thoughts. Blogs are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge, commitment, innovation, interests, .... It's also a great way to connect with somebody 1000's of miles away and form a relationship.

Other ways of meeting mentors.
  1. If you are working directly with somebody, a project manager or team leader, they may be a great starting point. Good mentors come from growing your network, until you grow your network, work with what you have.
  2. Volunteer your time. Many companies have all sorts of organizations and communities that are looking for volunteers to do all sorts of work. This could be making phone calls, writing newsletters, creating webpages, or organizing a local event at the office. Whatever it is, contribute. You'll meet people this way.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask. Most people are happy to tell you what they did to get where they are. Who doesn't like talking about themselves and boosting their ego? What's the worst that can happen? They say 'no', but they feel flattered that you look up to them in that way. They'll probably give you more respect as a result of asking them.

So good out, find a mentor, find a handful. Make sure you meet with them on a regular basis, such as once a month, once a quarter. Don't expect them to keep on top of it, they're very busy. You have to be proactive about it, and make sure you stay in touch. Drop them lines every know and then to let them know how you are doing.

Mentors will help you make career (and life) decisions. A mentor won't necessarily have a 'golden answer,' but they will ask you the questions that will help you come to your own conclusions.

Imagine having a long road trip in front of you, one with many forks that can send you in the wrong direction. A mentor will not map out your path, turn for turn, nor will they be able to mention all of the unforeseeable road blocks. What they will be able to help you with is the type of questions you should ask when you come to a fork or a road block. They'll give you feedback on the decisions they made and where it has put them. They'll let you know the wrong decisions they felt they may have made, or at least warn you of them, so that you know what they look like from 500ft away, instead of 30ft.


  • At 6/28/2005 9:30 AM, Anonymous didier said…

    That's pretty good advice. Thanks, Vincent.

  • At 6/28/2005 7:54 PM, Blogger Vincent said…

    I should have mentioned that you do not need to look for mentors within the establishment or business you are working in. For instance, if you are still in school, it would be great to have a mentor that might be a few years older (still in school) and have somebody out in the workforce that has similiar interests/goals as yourself.

    So if you are thinking of changing jobs/careers/industries/geography, it might be helpful to look outside your current area.


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