How to Find a Mentor
Whether you’re looking to make the jump between school and university, or to make a name for yourself in your chosen field of work, you’ve probably thought about how much easier some things would be if you could just ask someone who’s already been through it about their experiences. Finding a mentor can seem like an impossible task if you don’t already have family or school contacts. We’ve put together a guide to finding a mentor, covering exactly what it means, where to look, and how your mentoring relationship might work.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is someone with more experience in a certain field, who agrees to offer you advice over a period of time. This can be particularly helpful when it comes to school and work matters; many schools will get older students to mentor first years, as will most university departments. It’s also common for people on graduate schemes to be assigned a mentor at work. The difficulty often comes when you’re at a stage of change, whether it’s moving from school to uni, uni to work, or one job to another.
Do I need a mentor?
It’s more common to have a mentor in some fields than it is in others. Students applying to highly competitive programmes like medicine, or competitive universities like Oxford or Harvard, might particularly benefit from a mentor because application processes can seem confusing or daunting. Similarly, the arrangement is often more common in business careers because the industry highly values connections and learning from experience. That said, it can be really helpful to have someone to ask any questions, regardless of your chosen sector.
How does a mentor help you?
Mentoring can be very formal, or really informal, depending on how you found your mentor, your personal preference, and pre-existing commitments on both the mentor and the mentee’s part. You may decide to meet up for a coffee anything from once a week to twice a year, and discuss your progress, ask any questions you have and plan what you’ll do before you next meet. Alternatively, you might just text or email them any questions you have, as and when, communicating on more of an ad-hoc basis. A university admissions mentorship could last until results day, the end of the first term, or the end of your degree, whereas a professional mentor might be willing to continue in the role for decades.
How do I choose a mentor?
A lot of the qualities you’ll want to look for in prospective mentors will be personal to you, and who you think you’ll work best with. That said, there are a few general tips it can be helpful to follow in your search. First of all, make sure they’ve got relevant experience. If you’re looking for uni admissions advice, try to find someone currently studying or recently graduated from the exact course at the exact university that you’re interested in. They’ll be able to speak from personal experience, both of the admissions process and what the department is actually like for students.
As you begin to look for career mentors, you needn’t try so hard to find someone doing exactly what you want to do. Instead, look for people with skillsets or qualities you admire, such as leadership or organisation, or find someone who can give you insights into the general field of interest. Your career path should be your own, so rather than trying to copy someone else’s find someone who can teach you important skills which will come in helpful in your own journey.
More generally, good mentors will be patient, well-informed and good communicators. If you can find someone you enjoy spending time with, that can also be a bonus.
Where can I find a mentor?
You might already have links to a possible mentor through your family, friends, school or workplace. If there’s someone you know who works in a similar field to the one you want to work in, or studied the same degree, ask if they’d be happy to give you some advice. They might even be able to introduce you to one of their acquaintances who is even better placed to mentor you.
It’s okay if you don’t have anyone suitable in your immediate circle though – most people don’t! While lots of people would be flattered if someone they didn’t know asked them to be their mentor, you have a much better chance of success if you ask someone you’ve already established a connection with.
Tips to find a professional mentor
1. Attend networking events geared towards the subject, university or career you’re interested in
Rather than being the 829th person to approach the keynote speaker asking for advice, speak to other attendees who look older or more experienced than you are. If you get along well, exchange contact information and build a rapport, before asking them to mentor you. Chances are someone slightly further down the career ladder than CEO will have more time to mentor you, too. And if you’re networking virtually, be sure to utilize the digital platform’s features, such as chat boxes or breakout rooms, to initiate conversations and make meaningful connections, effectively expanding your network beyond geographic boundaries.
2. Consider utilising existing groups and professional networks
Platforms like LinkedIn can be invaluable in your search for a mentor. Knowing how to use LinkedIn effectively can make a significant difference in your professional journey. Start by building a strong profile that accurately represents your skills, experiences, and aspirations. Regularly engage with content relevant to your field and participate in discussions to increase your visibility.
Use LinkedIn’s advanced search tool to find professionals in your desired field. Study their profiles, note their career trajectories, and identify potential mentors who align with your career goals. Before reaching out, ensure that you have built some rapport by engaging with their posts or shared interests.
Further, join groups related to your field of interest. Active participation in these groups can help you network with like-minded individuals, share knowledge, and potentially catch the attention of a suitable mentor. Remember, the key to leveraging LinkedIn is to be proactive, genuine, and professional in your interactions.
3. Build and grow your professional circle
Whether it’s staying in touch with the owner of the boutique you worked in on Saturdays when you were 16, or the people you meet during a work experience placement or online internship, fostering professional connections is a surefire way to move in the right circles and find a mentor. Whether it’s your original contact, or someone they introduce you to, you’re far more likely to get them as a mentor if you have a human link. This doesn’t mean you have to become best friends, but you should make sure you reply to their emails in a timely fashion, and help them out if the opportunity arises.
4. Leverage academic resources
Don’t overlook the resources available at your school or university. Teachers, career counselors, and academic advisors can often provide valuable advice and connections. They may know of professionals in your field of interest who are open to mentoring students. If your school or university has an alumni network, consider reaching out to alumni who are working in your desired field, as they might be willing to provide mentorship or point you towards potential mentors.
Consider exploring summer academic opportunities that Oxford Scholastica Academy provides through its Oxford Summer School programmes for teens. These programmes offer an engaging learning environment where you can meet tutors and students with similar academic interests. It could be an excellent setting to connect with potential mentors.
Additionally, OxBright’s online courses for teens offer another avenue to extend your network and find a mentor. The platform allows you to interact with expert subject mentors and fellow students from around the world, thereby widening your mentorship possibilities.
Find a mentor that’s right for you
So, there you have it. The journey to finding a mentor may seem challenging, but the rewards are certainly worth it. Mentoring can be a truly valuable tool, providing guidance, encouragement, and professional insight that can profoundly impact your academic and career trajectory.
Whether you’re seeking a mentor in your chosen field, exploring academic interests, or needing direction in your career path, the right mentor can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge. From practical advice to strategic guidance, a mentor can help illuminate the path to your goals.
If you believe mentorship is right for you, we hope that you now feel more equipped and confident in your quest to find a suitable mentor. The strategies outlined above—networking effectively, leveraging LinkedIn, growing your professional circle, and making the most of educational resources—are all practical steps to connect with potential mentors.
But remember, finding a mentor isn’t just about getting advice. It’s about building a relationship based on mutual respect and learning. It’s about having someone who can challenge you, inspire you, and help you grow both professionally and personally.
Pursue your mentorship journey with determination and openness. Be patient, be persistent, and be genuine. The right mentor won’t merely be a guide; they will be a catalyst to help you realize your full potential.
Explore the Oxford Scholastica Academy
Our two-week summer courses for ages 12-18 are designed to help you explore a subject you are passionate about, through masterclasses, intensive practical challenges and our outstanding tutors. You’ll discover your potential future university course and career while getting a taste of student life in Oxford.