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FEATURES Oct 8 2013 8:18AM
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Mentors: How to Get Them, Keep Them and Pay It Forward

By: Shanika Hillocks

Oftentimes, when we think of the word "mentor," an image of someone who offers council or advice in our younger years comes to mind. However, acquiring a relationship with a mentor is one of the most valuable things you can do when establishing your professional career and the good news is it's never too late to start. Here are a few tips on how to gain a mentor, maintain the relationship and the importance of paying it forward:

1. Utilize your established connections: It's easy to want to gravitate toward the senior associates in your office as mentor options, but don't limit yourself to just your workplace. The connections you've made via networking events and the professionals you've met through family or friends make great mentors. Remember: people from any industry can offer significant career advice.

2. Just ask: The start to any relationship requires initiative. Asking a higher-up to be your mentor may seem like an intimidating or daunting task, but putting yourself out there puts your perseverance to practice. In your asking, also be clear about what you want. Need interview tips? Working on a new project and seeking guidance? Defining your objective not only assists in achieving your goal, but helps mark out what you want your career path to look like.

3. Be personal: A great resource I've continually utilized to gain professional connections, and even some of my mentors, is LinkedIn. By following a company page, you can easily find associates related to the department your interest is in. When requesting to connect, do away with the standard greeting and send a personalized note with your request and express your interest in the person. After the connection is made, follow up, send a quick e-mail, give them a call or propose a monthly coffee meeting.

4. Pass it on: Prior to having mentors, you probably didn't have the same resources available to you or have the skills you do now. Remember the hundreds of questions you had about an interview or position before your mentor stepped in and offered their assistance? Have an incoming intern class coming to your job? Did your company just hire a new entry-level associate? Still connected to the students of your alma mater? Consider becoming a mentor to any of these groups. Now that you're equipped with the tools of the trade, it definitely helps to pass it on. You not only will be sharpening your skills and increasing your visibility, but helping someone along the way.

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