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Question: I’m a junior partner in a mid-sized law firm. I have nearly 4 years of experience in transactional (non-litigation) law. I feel I am ready to advance in my career, and would like to find a mentor to help me get to a leadership position. There are many senior partners at our firm who may be good candidates, but I’m not sure how to begin. Any advice?
Answer: Finding a mentor is an excellent way to advance your career. Mentors can share their experience and insight, and help you advance. To get the most from a mentoring relationship, we suggest that you first take the time to define your need. Are you technically strong, but want to improve your relationship building skills? Do you want to learn more about operational aspects of the firm like strategic planning and goal setting? Once you have a solid understanding of your mentoring needs, make a list of those who can potentially fill the role.
Next, you’ll want to learn as much as you can about the people on your list. Which ones have values that align with yours? Get to know them in a casual setting over coffee or lunch to see if you have a natural rapport. Hint: Don’t lead with “Will you be my mentor?” (That’s like asking someone to marry you on the first date.) Just get to know them. Start small and see where it goes.
Once you’ve found a good match, take the time to set expectations up front. You’ll want to be respectful of your mentor’s busy schedule, so agree up front whether you’ll meet weekly to discuss your goals, or chat informally to talk when you have a challenge. Choose a style that best meets your goals and your mentor’s availability.
Finally, make sure you are prepared for an honorable close. The ultimate goal is to get to a stage where you will no longer require the services of your mentor. Just as you set expectations going into the relationship, be clear when you feel it’s time to move on. Don’t allow the relationship to end in an awkward fizzle. Thank your mentor for taking the time and caring enough to invest in your growth. Chances are, your relationship will evolve into a long-term trusted friendship.
Finally, when you get an invitation for coffee from a junior colleague, be prepared to use what you’ve learned to pass it on!