4 Ways to Know You Found The Right Mentor


Ever sat around wondering, “How did I get here?”

I found myself thinking that same question one Sunday morning as we sat in a room for small group leader training at our church. The associate pastor asked us to share with others at our table about someone in our lives who served in a leader or mentor type role. This got me to thinking about how I arrived at my current position professionally, mentally, etc. What I finally came up with was a college professor I met when I signed up for a semester-long research project. She ultimately changed the way I think of the world and myself. Here is how I found out I had the right mentor to steer me along in life.

1. The Right Mentor Makes You See Yourself in a Different Light

I remember very distinctly how my professor took me from a regular college student to future role model. Over time she filled my head with ideas of achieving high and lofty goals because I would someday help inspire those behind me. My professor told me about what a rare find it was to have a Hispanic male with a Master’s degree or higher.

Turns out she was right. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 7.1% percent of Master’s degree holders in the 2009-2010 academic year were Hispanic. Of the Hispanic degree holders, only 35.7% were male.

What does that have to do with anything? I never thought of myself as any kind of role model, but that changed once my mentor began to make me see myself in a different light. Yes, I would pursue an advanced degree to potentially move my career along, but I would also serve as an example for the next generation of Hispanic boys with ambitious dreams.

2. The Right Mentor is Someone to Share Concerns That Others May Not Understand

Not everyone will understand your job or career field, and know or care about the struggles you face. That’s okay because we cannot all be experts in everything. This is where the mentor comes in handy. As I tried to wrap my head around another 2 – 4 years of college, I had questions. Lots of them. What will my life look like in graduate school? How will I support myself and my new bride? Why even bother with grad school to begin with?

My point is that mentors have a unique position to guide us in a way that other people in our lives simply may not be able to. My parents, though educated as they were, could not understand. My friends, who were pursuing different career paths, could try their best to offer some advice. Sometimes, however, the best advice you can get is from someone who has already gone down the trail you are currently facing. This leads to my next point….

3. The Right Mentor Provides Wisdom Because They Have Already Been There

It was said by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., “The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.” Who better to ask about pursuing graduate school than someone with a Ph.D.? Having a mentor to provide some insight can save you from running the gauntlet that is trial and error. It also helped that my mentor also went to that same school that I was applying for. Knowing how to find housing or just getting a little background history on a place where I would be spending the next two years of my life helped tremendously.

4. The Right Mentor Helps to Refine Career Focus

During my time on the research team I learned quite a bit about surveys and statistics. More importantly, I began to hone in on my desire to pursue public service and get a better feel about how the public perceives government in general. My professor not only guided us in a tactical sense by supervising the research project, but also in a more strategic way by cultivating each team member’s career goals and aspirations. Many on our team went on to graduate school and now have successful careers in various fields. I can safely say that I am one of them.

How did you know when you found the right mentor for you? What tips do you have for others searching for a mentor?

Roman Alvarez is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Kimberly Kiser

I am curious about some best practices on seeking a mentor within the Government? How does one go about this without bothering anyone in particular. Are they generally individuals who have been former supervisors??

Audrey Sparks

Hi Kimberly. I work with the Department of Veterans Affairs. At our facility, we maintain a master list of available mentors who have completed the core training requirement. Employees are welcome to pick a mentor off that list and partner with them. That would be the formal process. There are also informal mentor relationships that regularly occur (such as within the supervisor/subordinate roles). Employees should be selecting a mentor who possesses a skill, attribute, knowledge, etc. that they wish to develop in their own career. While the majority of our mentors do have some type of supervisory role, it is not a requirement. My recommendation is that you do some research to see if you have an individual in your facility that monitors the mentor program. That employee would be able to point you in the right direction. If you don’t have an assigned role, you might start with Human Resources as mentorship has a direct relation to employee engagement and retention. Good luck!