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Finding a Good Mentor Requires a Strategy

In Bend An Ear, Straighten Your Path, Ann Farmer offers tips on being a "proactive mentee." The idea is that mentorship is not something that you chance to happen upon but rather something that you actively seek out based on how they can "help you shape your career." Farmer profiles several young lawyers in her article who found successful mentoring relationships, and there was no one-size-fits-all recipe. Some women chose mentors with whom they shared similarities, some chose mentors with whom they would never have the opportunity to interact if not for the mentoring relationship. For some, the important thing was that the chosen mentor could offer advice on how to get ahead and provide connections on building networks and getting clients. Others valued mentors who were not in a direct supervisory capacity and could offer candid advice about navigating workplace personalities and expectations.

Clearly mentorship is at least partly about exploring within yourself 1) what you need help with the most and 2) the type of person with whom you could develop a relationship to meet those needs. Farmer notes that "not all neophyte lawyers, or even highly experienced ones, have the guts to go after the mentor of their dreams" but that the most important thing is to make good use of the mentor you have.

So how do you find a mentor? You might be lucky enough to have one provided for you at your job who meets your criteria, or you might happen upon a professor you click with at law school, but if neither of these things happen (or even if they do since more mentors are pretty much always better than one), you need to be proactive. How do you decide who to solicit? Farmer recommends asking yourself the following questions:

• How accessible are they?
• Do they make good role models?
• Are they candid, honest, and trustworthy?
• How comfortable do you feel around them?
• Do they offer insightful advice?
• Are they happy in their job?
• How important is it that you share common background, goals, or experiences?
• How can they help you shape your career?

For me, the difficult part is getting from the point of identifying an ideal mentor to the point of actually having that person as a mentor. I am sad to admit that I've had more luck procuring male mentors than female ones. In law school, the women professors I admired had many students vying for their attention and time, and it was difficult to get enough face time with any of these professors to establish what I would call a successful mentoring relationship. Less popular professors were more accessible and more willing to mentor me. During the summer, I tried to reach out to women professionals I admired, but they were all so busy and never made me feel comfortable seeking out their time (let alone their advice on my future). So... it might be harder than simply asking to actually get a mentor.

Assuming you do find a mentor, though, what should you do to contribute to the success of your mentoring relationship? According to Farmer, the following six tips are crucial:

• Know what you’re looking for in a mentor.
• Be respectful of your mentor’s time.
• Come to meetings prepared.
• Keep an open mind.
• Express your gratitude.
• Stay in touch after the mentor period has ended.

If you've been successful at getting a mentor, share your stories and advice here. I know I could use it!

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