Finding a Professional Mentor

Throughout my career, I have had mentors who guided me through challenging career decisions, gave me tough love when I needed it most, and coached me out of a funk.  Some of the relationships with my mentors have spanned decades, while others were one or two conversations.  Regardless of the type of relationship, I believe everyone should have people they can count on for guidance and perspective.

As a transportation nerd and executive, one question that I am often asked is “how do I find a mentor?” Here are five ways I found my mentors and how my mentees found me.

  1. Apply to a formal mentor-mentee program: Many professional organizations and large companies have a formal mentor-mentee program. The organization/company will match you with a mentor based on areas where you need guidance. These programs are a great way to meet with senior professionals in your industry. I have served as a mentor in the Women’s Transportation Seminar – DC Chapter twice and I still work with both mentees today. I have my mentee that I was matched with two years ago and my current mentee. Although my obligations of the program ended with my old mentee last year, we still try to get together at least 3-4 times a year. I’m meeting with my current mentee about every other month.
  2. Look within your company/agency: A boss or supervisor can serve as a mentor. However, I have found that it helps to have a senior person to mentor you that does not have a direct say in personnel matters (i.e. raises, promotions, etc) because it can create a conflict of interest. At every organization I worked prior to Nspiregreen, I had a mentor within my agency/company that was in a different department or office. In each case, I found that person without a formal program. There was something about them (personality, position, leadership style) that drew me towards them.  For example, when I was at the Federal Highway Administration I met my mentor during orientation. He walked in, was well-dressed, and had a presence that commanded attention without being gregarious. After learning he was in the Senior Executive Service, I decided I was going to get his contact information and he was going to help me navigate the Federal government. Our mentor-mentee relationship started with monthly 15-20 minute meetings. Twelve years later we still have check-ins by text message, email, or over a meal (when our schedules align).
  3. Reach out to a former boss: We leave jobs for different reasons such as relocation, change in career paths, or ending of an internship. If your boss is not the reason you left and you had a connection with them, they may be a good person to serve as a mentor. Depending on how long you were at the company/agency and the nature of your relationship with your boss, they may have unique insight into your strengths and areas where you can grow. Personally, I reach out to my boss from my internship between college and graduate school a few times a year.
  4. Use the internet: The internet gives us global access to all levels of professionals in any industry. You can Google leaders in your industry or use networking or social media sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, or blogs to learn from their experiences and connect with them. People have reached out to me on LinkedIn to ask specific questions related to growing in transportation and equity. Some of those conversations ended on LinkedIn, while others led to in-person meetings.
  5. Use your resources: People you know, know other people. Whether you are looking for a new job or have questions about growing within an industry, share your progress with your friends and network. Often your contacts know people who can help you find someone that can impart knowledge. Ask people you know to facilitate an introduction or at the very least give a heads up that you are going to contact them.

There are many other ways to find a mentor. These are five methods that have worked for me or people have used to contact to me. In my next post, I will discuss how to start and cultivate the relationship with your mentor.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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