A mentor is a person who is more experienced than you are (in either the same field or a closely related one) who helps and guides you in your career. I thought this concept was simple enough until I had a few conversations with someone who’s direct supervisor is called his “mentor”. “Baloney!” I said (paraphrasing) “A mentor CAN’T be your supervisor!”

Sure, you can find career advice anywhere – just see the last post where I gathered together some random pieces of advice – but that isn’t mentorship, either. A true mentor is typically someone who(m):

  • Is more experienced than you are
  • K nows you personally
  • You admire
  • Helps you think through things so that you can make decisions
  • Cares about how you’re doing
  • Helps you understand your own strengths / weaknesses and what to do about them
  • Will tell you WHY

A mentor is NOT someone who:

  • Berates or rubs your nose in your weaknesses
  • Is your supervisor or works for the same company/department
  • Sets a bad example or has a negative attitude
  • Never seems to have time for you
  • Has a stake (of any kind) in the outcome of your decisions

I got lucky. I found someone early in my career (an architect) who I’ve gone to for advice now and then and who has been absolutely invaluable. I still talk to her and also get advice from lots of other places: employers both past and present, colleagues, online research, friends, family, and so forth; but not one of those mentioned is a true mentor. My mentor understands the industry, knows me personally, and has exactly zero stake in the results of my decisions unlike those other resources. It is because of her that I have a strong opinion about mentors and what a benefit finding a good one can be.

Sadly, most of us don’t have a mentor as I learned when fishing for pieces of career advice from colleagues for the last post. Not one of the people I polled could tell me about their mentor.

BUT, hooray! There is a possible solution if you don’t have someone in your life yet who you can talk to: the ASLA has the Emerging Professionals Network. I strongly urge recent graduates to give it a shot or find someone another way with whom you can start to form a relationship and go to for impartial career advice.

On the flip-side, being a mentor is a rewarding job! You need to posses interest, commitment, and confidence in your abilities as a professional as well as a desire to be helpful to someone. It is an important and rewarding thing to do.

A mentor may share with a mentee (or protege) information about his or her own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling. The mentor should be prepared to help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources. If you are considering mentoring someone, you should be prepared to:

  • Listen
  • Value your protege as a person
  • Develop mutual trust and respect with your protege
  • Maintain confidentiality
  • Help your protégé solve his or her own problem (rather than give direction)
  • Focus on your protégé’s development

With all that in mind, I encourage all of us to be the best mentors and proteges we can be for each other.

I have some exciting posts in the works coming up, but keep the emails and comments coming! Thanks for reading.

The image above was assembled using this resource for the image and this one for the quote.

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