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Get a mentor; the right ways to choose and schmooze a savvy career adviser.

Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. On the job, knowing how and when to ask for one can make the difference between a purposeful, rewarding career and a stagnant, unfulfilling one. Having a good mentor within your corporation will keep you from having to look very far for that assistance.

Often, our mentors aren't chosen; they assume their place in our lives through circumstance. Nearly everyone has had that buoyant godmother who was particularly encouraging, that caring teacher who saw something special in them, that supportive colleague who watched their back and pushed them forward. Unfortunately, those people aren't able to follow us every step of the way. At some point, you may have to purposefully align yourself with someone possessing the qualities and affiliations that make them worth having in your corner.

"A mentor can be anyone who's achieved something in a way you'd like to and who's in a position to help you get what you want," says Helene Lerner-Robbins, a principal at Oasis Communications, a corporate consulting, training and development firm in New York City. Mentors can show you the ropes, give you heightened visibility and share educational "war" stories. A good mentor also gives constructive criticism, while a good protege listens, learns and ultimately benefits from it.

Here's the real dilemma though: Once you've identified a potential mentor, how do you go about courting him? "You definitely don't telegraph your agenda by asking him outright," says Edith Weiner, president of Manhattan-based Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc., a trend analysis and strategic planning firm. Rather, she suggests, after several interactions, simply let him know you value his advice and are learning a lot from it. "Not only will that flatter him, but it'll probably give him the incentive to help you more," says Weiner.

Margaret Lawson snagged an influential mentor in just that way. As an assistant to a bank vice president, Lawson's responsibilities included scrutinizing the stacks of resumes her boss received daily. Over time, she recorded her own analysis of the dos and don'ts of resume writing. She then took her work to a college professor in whose course she was enrolled.

"I valued her expertise and knew she would give me honest feedback," Lawson says of her teacher. After reviewing her work, Lawson's professor encouraged her to conduct resume writing seminars at the college. To her delight, she is now doing that.

Lawson's method was ideal. If you approach your potential mentor from your strengths, with a clear sense of your needs, goals and capabilities, you'll set the tone for a fruitful alliance. Never make an overture out of weakness. No one leaps to the aid of a whiner or chronic victim. If your demeanor screams, "I'm clueless. Help me," you will remain helpless.

Like any other relationship, a mentorship should be an active, balanced exchange. "There's a myth which says there's one person who gives and one who just receives," says Lerner-Robbins. Not only is this the quickest way to burn out a mentor, but it can turn her off on the relationship altogether, Lerner-Robbins cautions. So, once you've snagged a good mentor, don't sit back and merely absorb her aid and wisdom. Look for ways to reciprocate. Everyone--even those who seem to have it all--needs support.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Baskerville, Dawn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:May 1, 1994
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