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When you want to switch up your career and move into a new field, knowing where to start – and who to turn to for advice – can seem overwhelming.
Sure, you could ask your friends and family for their two cents’ worth, but unless they work in your chosen industry, a professional mentor is likely a better bet for more specific guidance.
So how do you find a good mentor, and what’s the best way to approach them? What skills or connections could they potentially offer you – and how can you make sure your mentor feels their time and effort is being well spent?
If you can team up with an inspiring mentor, and are willing to work hard to put their advice into play, the importance of a mentor to your career cannot be overstated.
This is especially the case when you’re exiting a job and an industry and taking a leap into the unknown.
‘I think it can be always quite scary to leave something that you’ve become accustomed to,’ says Daizy Maan, manager of Deakin’s entrepreneurial program SPARK. ‘Finding a mentor in the career you’re about to enter is really good because you can ask them questions as to what it’s actually like.’
As well as giving you an idea about the kinds of roles in the industry you might be interested in pursuing, a professional mentor is likely to be well connected. And if they’re impressed with your proactive manner, they might eventually have a word in the ear of a hiring manager, or introduce you to other helpful contacts.
Other things they can do for you? Provide fresh insights, help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and even provide a listening ear when challenges arise.
Maan warns against hitting up a potential mentor for a job straight away.
‘Never hesitate to reach out to people,’ she says. ‘But don’t say “I’m looking for a job”, or “how do I get a job in that industry?”’
She says it’s better to come at it from a curiosity standpoint – for example, learning more about the industry or how that person achieved success.
While you might be looking to pick the brain of someone in a particular industry, you could also be looking for a mentor with a particular skill, such as public speaking.
So what’s the best way to find a mentor?
‘I’m a big fan of LinkedIn, so I would use LinkedIn to find mentors, or AngelList, which is like LinkedIn for start-ups (though it is skewed towards US start-ups),’ Maan says.
'Finding a mentor in the career you’re about to enter is really good because you can ask them questions as to what it’s actually like.'
SPARK, Deakin University
‘On LinkedIn, I’d look for the industry and I’d look for the people you admire – look for their articles, books they’ve written or conferences they’ve spoken at.
‘Start with looking at thought leadership pieces. These kind of people that would be great mentors because they’re generous enough to contribute their insights generally.’
Maan suggests not ruling out potential mentors because of their age. Someone just a few years older than you might have plenty of experience, and a person who has retired will have a wealth of industry and life knowledge to share.
From there, don’t be afraid to send that person a LinkedIn message, outlining why you’d love to meet up with them.
Of course, you could always pick up the phone and introduce yourself that way. ‘I actually think calling is fantastic – our generation… we avoid the phone like no tomorrow,’ Maan says.
Given that they’re donating their time and expertise to you and your new career, it’s worth making any mentoring arrangement as seamless as possible.
So suggest specific times to meet up, working around their busy schedule. And be open to going to them, rather than expecting the reverse, says Maan.
However don’t forget you have valuable insight to offer too – so try not to be intimidated.
‘Often students forget they offer insight, a different perspective, from a different generation,’ Maan says. ‘It’s kind of like a power dynamic – when you put a mentor on too much of a pedestal, you feel like you’re using them.’
It also makes sense to have some questions in mind for your mentor, she says.
While some of the questions will be industry-specific, other general questions might include: What do you like least about your job? What do you like least about what you do? What was a pivotal point in your career?
As to how often you catch up with your mentor, that’s for both of you to decide. It might be as little as a few times a year, or even monthly.
However you set up the arrangement, don’t forget to treat it as professionally as possible – because it may be well be the key to succeeding in your new career.
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