A mentor is not necessarily your boss, as in academia. Your industrial boss is actually your customer first and foremost. Though it’s possible your boss can be your mentor, you shouldn’t assume this.
A work mentor is someone who has more experience than you and is happy to share it with you. True mentors are people who can establish a very strong rapport with you. There should be a rock-solid element of trust and real, genuine comradery established. Having this kind of working relationship makes mentoring easy, effective and fun!
The secret to finding a mentor is networking within your company. Take time to introduce yourself and get to know people in your group. Do this in the break room or in the cafeteria. Perhaps there is someone that you’re working with on a project that you interact with frequently. Get to know these people and ask questions about their experience.
As you do this, look at the individuals with whom you have a great rapport. Is there someone who has a specific role in the company for which you are aspiring? With whom do you look forward to discussing projects? Does this individual seek you out to share ideas with you? Are you both enthusiastic about sharing ideas with each other? This would be a good person to ask to serve as a mentor.
Note the key word: Ask! Never assume that someone wants to serve as a mentor. When you do ask, make sure that you are clear as to what you are seeking from this type of working relationship. A mentor should not only be willing to coach but also to advocate for you, too. Also, make sure that you are able in some way to help your mentor. The time the mentor invests in you should be returned in the form of new skills that you can apply to the job, or perhaps you may have new experiences that your mentor does not.
Finally, going back to our first point: A boss can serve as a mentor, and there is certainly a mentoring aspect to being a supervisor. The relationship between a worker and their boss can also be easy, effective and fun, and can very well become a great mentoring experience. If the tips discussed here for finding a mentor point to your boss, then that’s great! However, it may not. Some supervisors simply do not have the time to mentor and expect their employees to work very independently. The responsibility for finding a mentor at your workplace is ultimately yours, but once you find a great mentor, you will be well on your way to reaching your career aspirations more effectively and efficiently.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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