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The Mentorship Puzzle

Ask a successful business person what made the difference in her career, and you’re likely to hear a “who” rather than a “what.” Mentors are a great resource when you’re starting a career, changing careers, or attempting to move up the career ladder. The challenge is fitting the pieces together to form a perfect puzzle.

Most people don’t have a mentor because they don’t know where to look for one. But potential mentors are all around you: sitting across from you at a fundraiser luncheon, one floor up on the executive level at the office, or a client that you tried (and perhaps failed) to woo. The ideal mentor isn’t even necessarily someone in your industry. If you’re starting a manufacturing business, you might find that a successful retailer is a wonderful mentor for you. Perhaps your personalities just click, or he’s an effective teacher. And even though you’re in different sectors, he can reveal marketing techniques that worked for him, what efforts weren’t worth the time and money, and give you access to his valuable contacts.

And if the word “mentor” seems too dorky to utter out loud, simply say to your potential mentor that you admire her accomplishments and wondered if she could be a resource for you as you learn the ropes, change jobs, climb the ladder, etc. Most people will be flattered. Remember that this shouldn’t be a one-way-street relationship, however. Take her to lunch, ask what you can do for her, or just jump in and help. You might learn the most simply by going to work with her for the day and helping her tackle projects. And don’t forget to pay it forward by mentoring someone else one day.

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