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Using Informal Mentors to Find and Accelerate Your Career Path

Rob Bagley, PhD - Director of Career & Internship Services at LDS Business College.

Deciding what to do for a career is an overwhelming experience for most people. At a recent conference on mentoring, Farouk Dey, VP for Integrative Learning and Life Design at John Hopkins, gave a keynote presentation on the benefits of Design Thinking as a helpful approach in deciding about one’s career. After the meeting I was talking with Farouk – checking to make sure I had understood his message and he said, “Let me simplify this for you: Talk with people and try stuff – a quote he heard from Dave Evans, co-author of the book Designing Your Life. That was simple enough that it stuck with me and I have been sharing it with students ever since. Here are three things to keep in mind when looking for a mentor:

Talk with People

One way to explore possible careers is through informal mentorships. Meaningful mentoring is one of the key experiences related to career engagement and success. However, many students are not aware of the benefits of mentoring relationships and feel intimidated at the thoughts of recruiting a mentor.

One way to overcome your fear of approaching a potential mentor is to remember that most people enjoy talking about themselves and what they do. If you are genuinely interested in them and their experiences, they will enjoy the conversation and so will you.

Healthy Dating: A Model for Mentorship

Finding a mentor has many similarities with healthy dating. In my community, youth were taught that the primary purpose of dating during high school years was to have fun and get to know a lot of different people. Part of what made this work was that it was understood that a date was not a commitment.  A date did not mean you were going steady; a date did not mean that you were kissing – it was just a date. 

Gathering a small group of personal mentors is like healthy dating. Initially, you are not asking for a serious time commitment; you are just petitioning for 30 minutes to ask them about their work, their company, their career journey and any advice they may have for you. This could happen over lunch, a phone call or video chat.

At LDS Business College, we are launching a mentoring platform (PeopleGrove) to help facilitate the type of mentoring described above – often referred to as Flash Mentoring. Rather than a formal pairing of a student with an assigned mentor, we use the platform to make it easier for students to reach out to several different alumni. The hopes is to find one or two alumni where a good, helpful mentoring relationship can organically develop.

When an initial conversation is a positive experience, then follow-up conversations can happen organically as needed. If the chemistry didn’t feel right, no big loss for either person—just move on to getting to know the next potential mentor. The ultimate goal would be to identify a few mentors who can assist you in your life and career journey on a longer-term basis.

Characteristics of a Good Mentor

An ideal mentor typically can offer three things:

  1. Expertise and knowledge (To teach and guide you)
  2. Wisdom (To offer support and perspective)
  3. Networks (To connect you to people and opportunities)

Just like in dating, the more you date, or look for mentors, the more you increase your chances of finding a mentor who may make a significant difference in your life and career.

So remember, the key to successful career exploration and development is to talk with people, try new things and seek for inspiration.

To hear Farouk’s own story about how to find life inspiration through talking with people and trying new things watch his Ted talk.


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