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The College Student’s Guide to Finding a Career Mentor

Balancing classes, a part-time job, an internship, homework and social activities can be tough. So when the topic of finding a mentor comes up, many college students shrug off the idea because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

You may be wondering, “Uh oh, do I really need a mentor?”  The answer is no. Having a mentor won’t make-or-break your chance at career success. However, having a good mentor can be extremely helpful when you’re looking for career advice, job opportunities or even just a role model who has already succeeded in the career field you’d like to enter.

If you’ve never had a mentor, you probably have a million of questions. Never fear! I’ve gathered some helpful insights to help you find the perfect mentor.

How can a mentor help me?

There are many ways a mentor can help you, and you can often tailor your mentor/mentee relationship depending on what you hope to get out of it.

It’s best to be very specific about your goals when looking for a mentor. Do you want to find somebody to help you get your foot in the door in the accounting industry? Or maybe you’re looking for somebody to help you with your resume and cover letters?

Karen Burns, author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, writes that mentoring can differ depending on the needs of the mentee. “It can be a monthly lunch, a quarterly phone call, a weekly handball game, or merely a steady e-mail correspondence. Your mentor doesn’t even have to live in your city or region.”

Giving your mentor a detailed description of what you would like them to help you with is often the best method of handling this type of relationship. Think about what you need from them and then don’t be afraid to ask for it!

Kelsey Mulvey, a student at Boston University, found a mentor in one of her bosses. “She’s super supportive and is encouraging me to follow my dreams, as clichéd as it sounds. I don’t think a mentor is absolutely necessary, but if you find someone who truly believes in you, it’s great to have that kind of support system!”

Two women with a laptop
Photo by CreateHERStock from nappy

Where can I find a mentor?

Oftentimes, the most difficult aspect of mentorships is finding a mentor who’s right for you. In college, however, there are numerous resources students can use to find a mentor:

  • Current or former professors
  • Bosses/supervisors from jobs or internships
  • School-organized mentorship programs (where you can apply to be placed with a specific mentor, ask your academic advisors if your school has one!)
  • Professional organizations (both on and off campus)
  • Alumni databases

Alaine Perconti, a student at Miami University of Ohio, was connected with multiple mentors when she joined a professional business fraternity at her school. 

“Learning from their experiences, even if they were different from my own, has proven invaluable as I have progressed through the business school and have begun seeking internships for the summer,” she says. “I imagine joining any student organization would be a good start to finding a mentor of your own.”

In a much different setting, former Her Campus contributing writer Cassie Potler found a mentor after graduating from James Madison University and starting Teach For America. “My mentor Margi taught kindergarten, just like me, across the hall. As soon as I walked in, she took me under her wing and promised to help me ‘survive’ my first year teaching. Margi was more than a mentor to me, she also became one of my closest friends.”

Related: 7 Free Mentorship Programs That Will Transform Your Career Path

How can I ask somebody to be my mentor?

Depending on the situation, you may not be comfortable simply calling somebody and formally asking, “Will you be my mentor?” A better way to feel out the situation is to ask the person for advice — on formatting your resume for example. By asking her a few questions, you can determine if you find her helpful and want her assistance to be an ongoing relationship.

The most important aspect of finding a mentor is making sure the person has time for you. If they are simply too busy, it won’t be a beneficial relationship for you or the mentor.

On that note, don’t be offended if you ask somebody to be your mentor and they respond that they are too busy for the relationship. Instead, thank them and ask if they know of anybody else in their career field (or the field you hope to go into) that might be willing to help you out. Chances are this person will have some great contacts and you’ll find the perfect mentor for you!

two women having an interview

What do I have to do as a mentee?

As a mentee, there are certain responsibilities you should uphold in order to ensure a successful relationship. To start, you should initiate and schedule the plans with your mentor. Remember — this person is helping you. Make it as easy as possible for them to do so.

Additionally, listen to what your mentor has to say. If you ask them a question, you want an honest answer. Don’t brush off their advice. You may eventually decide that you don’t want to follow their recommendations, but it is important to be receptive and understand that they’re truly trying to help you out.

Lastly, do something nice in return for the time and energy they spend on you! Treat your mentor to lunch — or at the very least write them a nice thank you card. If your mentor feels appreciated, they will be more likely to work harder to help you with your questions or find career opportunities.

It’s important to remember that anybody can be your mentor. If you respect somebody for their accomplishments and they are willing to give a little time out of their schedule for you — whether formally or informally — you can build the relationship into a successful mentorship. So don’t be afraid to ask!

Rebecca Buddingh is a senior at the University of Southern California, pursuing her B.A. in Public Relations with a minor in Marketing. Throughout the course of the last year she has completed three public relations internships. However, having spent time as a news writer for USC publications and as editor of her high school newspaper, Rebecca's favorite hobby (and method of relaxing) is writing. Born and raised in sunny San Diego, she is an avid fan of both the Chargers and Padres. She can usually be found with an iced vanilla latte in one hand and her BlackBerry in the other. When she graduates in May 2012, she hopes to start a fulfilling career at a public relations agency. Connect with Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaBuddingh