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Note: This question specifically focuses on identifying a mentor in my organization, and therefore is not a duplicate of questions like: Seeking out a Mentor in field that does not work at the same company, or How can I find a Mentor?

Note: I am looking for a mentor at my specific workplace because I want to benefit from someone with extensive institutional knowledge in the same organization, not somewhere else.

I work in a large organization with fairly set hierarchical structure and relatively low turnover. I have been here for a few years and know people in different departments and units.

However, I do not have a mentor.

I would like to find a mentor among the people I know, who is placed higher in the organization, has learned the ropes, and could advise me on topics such as:

  • management, supervision, and leadership;
  • internal politics, looming changes on the horizon - someone who can read the "writing on the wall" and anticipate reshuffling or budget swings;
  • opportunities for internal networking and professional development;
  • be a trusted source of strategic advice in times of need, unlikely to betray/backstab;

I wonder if anyone has experience finding similar mentors, and can share HOW this was accomplished?

Was it a lucky result of random internal matchmaking as part of HR policy, or a result of some ad-hoc proactive search on your part? If the latter, what do you think you did right to end up with a good mentor?

What qualities should one look for in a potential mentor?

What are some tell-tale signs that one would be a good fit for such a role?

On the opposite, what behaviors or attitudes raise a flag?

Once I find someone who fits the profile, what is a good way to approach them about this in a way that leaves them an out in case they are not interested, without creating an awkward tension afterwards?

One person I can think of who seems like a potential fit is my boss. Are there downsides to asking one's boss to also be a mentor? We have a reasonably good working relationship and I get positive performance reviews. However, being a "junior" employee compared to some of the others, I am not high up enough and have not been around for as long as others who also report to him, and I generally have less (in fact, very little) 'face time' with him. Would this be a showstopper?

Any informed advice based on experience would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

  • Forget about your boss as the "Mentor". Perhaps just go ask HR, it's the sort of problem they like? – Fattie Jul 9 '17 at 23:27
  • To me, it sounds like you are not looking for a mentor, but for a friend. A really good and trusted one. – skymningen Jul 10 '17 at 7:51
  • @skymningen Thanks for your perspective. I agree there is overlap, but still there is a difference. I tend to keep my friends and my workplace relationships separate, so that 'friends' are not people I work with, and people I work with are merely colleagues. – A.S Jul 10 '17 at 15:36
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First things first. I would absolutely not use your boss as a mentor, for a few key reasons:

  • Your interests may be competing (a great boss will be able to be a good mentor in spite of this but most bosses are not great bosses)
  • You will with near certainty not be able to be as open with them as you want
  • A lot of opportunities for applying skills used in mentoring involve situations with your boss or coworkers

A major benefit of a positive mentorship is the ability to speak openly about whatever the ongoing questions/concerns are. With a boss, this may be difficult or impossible.

What qualities should one look for in a potential mentor?

Why they want to be a mentor and whether or not they are capable of providing you the mentorship you desire.

Why do they want to mentor you. Do they want to say "I mentored 10 employees this year" or do they legitimately like and derive satisfaction from mentoring?

Then, you need to know what your mentor is going to help you with - asking someone "hey will you mentor me? I really have no idea of what I want out of this relationship but will you do so anyways?" is kind of pointless. Figure out a few things you want to accomplish. Things like:

  • Identifying what your next career move is (if you have no idea about what you want)
  • Transitioning into a different and known role
  • Dealing with a complicated project

The content isn't as important as you having a point in approaching someone. That point helps you to determine what you should look for in a potential mentor. If you want to move into a senior technical role, you might not want to be finding someone who has been in a junior role for 10 years. Etc.

Having a goal also then enables the mentorship to actually do something other than hanging out.

In my opinion, having someone outside the reporting structure you are within is a huge benefit for a mentorship relationship. Someone in a different division is much less invested in the day to day of what you are working on and can be a much more unbiased source of input.

What are some tell-tale signs that one would be a good fit for such a role?

Talk with them. You need to be comfortable with them and they need to be comfortable working with you. I cannot stress this enough: you need to feel a "vibe" with the mentor because you likely won't meet a ton and need to be able to have an open and meaningful relationship with them.

Basically:

  • Relational vibe
  • Competence in areas you want to learn more about

There's really not an answer to this question that is conclusive, because it's complicated - people are complicated and different. Someone who is a terrible mentor to you might be a great mentor to someone with a different personality and different goals.

Regarding your specific points, keep in mind that a mentor should not be a "inside information source" as your point here suggests:

  • internal politics, looming changes on the horizon - someone who can read the "writing on the wall" and anticipate reshuffling or budget swings;

What I would do is talk with your direct manager and mention you'd like to find a mentor figure within the company. Depending on your company, this might be fine to bring up directly - be mindful of how hierarchical your company is. You can even ask them who they might recommend, if you think you'd trust their judgement.

I'm assuming you don't have a formal program but that's also a great step to look into.

If neither of these are feasible, try to identify someone you respect within the company and approach them directly. In my experience many of those in leadership love to help and mentor others. Many of them have tons of knowledge and experience and wisdom and no one bothers to ask them about it. Approaching them directly may very well work.


I have found immense value in pursuing mentors both formally and informally throughout my career. In fact I've been involved in helping setup a formal program in my current company, as all our mentorships are adhoc.

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    Hey, you are even doing a bit of "mentoring" with me here! Thanks for a nice answer. I would like to hear other perspectives but this is very helpful and much appreciated. – A.S Jul 10 '17 at 1:07

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