Struggling to move forward in your career? Hello, mentor. Click through for major tips on finding your perfect mentor match!

The phrase “find a mentor, be a mentor” struck a chord with me while attending a panel discussion called Power Up: Professional Women, Stimulating Perspectives.

A mentor is one of the most important people you will ever have in your life, and perhaps one of the most important people that you will ever be. It’s a way we give back to each other and our industries by sharing our knowledge and experiences to help us all be our best selves.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone that helps you grow professionally. In certain circumstances when you know your mentor very well, they can help you grow personally as well. When it comes to mentors, it’s really up to you to determine the boundaries of the relationship.

Related: Will You Be My Mentor?

The role of a mentor is to listen to you, offer advice, and allow you to learn from experiences they’ve had in the past. Your mentor is your sounding board, someone you reach out to when you have questions or want to talk through an idea or learn something new. They are also the person you go to when you’re facing a tough career decision and want to go over your options with someone.

Chances are, your mentor has gone through a lot of the same things that you are going through, and would love to help guide you through your own experiences as you grow.

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A few thoughts on mentors from a PRSA Twitter chat:

“Having a mentor means always having someone who can be a soundboard for ideas, dreams, etc. SO crucial #PRSAchat@megan_vp

“Mentors are invaluable. They help you w/ reality checks as you move ahead. #prsachat @CurryEdu @CCPRSA @CurryCCD@KirkHazlett

Who can be a mentor? 

Anyone can be a mentor: a close relative, your school advisor, your boss or a coworker. You can—and probably should—be a mentor too. 

Related: 5 Questions to Tell if Your Mentor is a Good Fit For You

You can have more than one mentor at a time. You have the opportunity to learn from everyone you meet, and many mentorships develop naturally. Good mentors challenge and motivate you.

Your mentor(s) can even come from outside your industry — those types of mentors offer you a fresh, objective, and unbiased perspective.

Keep in mind, the most important thing a mentor can do for you is inspire you to find answers by thinking in a different way than you are used to.

How do I choose a mentor?

My best tip is to be proactive — don’t wait for a mentor to come to you, because chances are you’ll be waiting around forever.

Steps you can take:

  1. Determine who you would like to be your mentor.
  2. Take the initiative to ask them to sit down with you for a few minutes.
  3. Ask questions and get a feel for the opinions they may have on situations you’re facing.
  4. See what they wish they had known when they were in your place.
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Mentorships should never feel forced; it should be a natural fit that feels comfortable for both the mentor and the mentee.

Signs your mentor is a natural fit:

  1. You know them (or would like to get to know them) well.
  2. You feel comfortable having open conversations with them.
  3. You feel confident that the advice they give you is relevant and helpful.
  4. You feel that your opinion is valued when they ask questions of you.

Not all mentorships are formal. In fact, you don’t have to formally ask someone to be your mentor. Take this for example:

“If you’re not sure how to get a mentor, just use “secret” mentors. Use those folks your gravitate towards w/ great insight #prsachat” -@samsims

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re unsure of something, or want to learn more about something, ask.

“…Just ask the questions and they WILL answer. #prsachat-@samsims

The answers you get when you ask questions can lead you to a mentor, secret or not secret.

Keep in mind that a great mentor learns from you, too:

“Mentorships are reciprocal. A good mentor does not believe that she or he has nothing to learn from a mentee.” @VinceSkolny

Take a look at your network and find your mentor in someone that you trust, respect, and can openly talk to. Establish a relationship, and learn from each other.

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How can I be a mentor? 

Related: How To Be a Valuable Mentor in Your Twenties

You’re in your 20s — you don’t even have your own life figured out yet, right? That’s okay, you can still be a mentor. Being a mentor is about learning and advising; we all have something valuable to share no matter where we are in life.

For example, be the person your friends and coworkers come to for advice. Act as their sounding board and let them bounce ideas off of you. Offer an objective, unbiased perspective, and help them learn from your experiences.

You can also be part of an official peer mentor program if your college or company offers one. It’s especially important to mentor seniors in college. As a young professional, you know how tough that time can be. If they have questions about job searches or graduation, help them. You were just in their shoes, and it’s a great feeling to pay it forward.

Take a few minutes out of your day to help someone out and see what you can learn from them in return.

Now go find a mentor and be a mentor. 

Mentors bring out the best in people, and help us be the best possible versions of ourselves that we can be.