You’ve done all the work, graduated from the program and polished your resume. Now it’s time to land the job that will catapult you to success. Our mainstream culture loves to tell us that we will rise based on our own merit, but the story behind the scenes is that successful people make their way up the ranks using more than their skills and preparation; they chose the right mentors to help them to the next stage. Mentorship is especially critical to those of us who are black and/or first-generation Americans. We often come from families that don’t have experience in the fields that we’re working in, so their advice, no matter how well-intentioned, might not be enough to get us to where we need to go.

Effective mentoring gives you insight into your strengths and the places where you can grow. Mentoring can also blossom into sponsorship where your mentor gives you access to a job opportunity. To reap the benefits of mentoring, you have to move beyond getting advice from well-intentioned family to making deliberate choices about who gives you advice on your career. Here are the questions you need to ask before you choose a mentor:

Has this person achieved what I hope to achieve?

Your second cousin who you only see on Thanksgiving might have tons to say about what you should do in your career, but if they don’t have knowledge of your industry, then you shouldn’t put too much weight on their advice. Reach out to people in your organization or people you admire who are a few steps ahead of you career-wise. They might seem intimidating, but most people are flattered when they hear that you’re interested in them as a potential mentor.


Does this person share my values?

Once you’ve identified a few potential mentors, observe how they act professionally. Are they ruthless workaholics? Do they show compassion to their co-workers? Choosing a mentor who matches your values will ensure that you can take their advice without making spiritual and philosophical compromises.


Are they invested in my success?

If you answered “yes” to the first two questions, it’s time to reach out to your potential mentor and invite them to a brief meeting. Tell them about yourself, your goals and why you’ve chosen them as a potential mentor. Pay close attention to how they respond during this meeting.  Do they believe in your potential and are they willing to help you get to where you’d like to be?


Once you’ve found a good mentor, treat them well. Be sure to thank them for their time with you and, at the very least, pay for their coffee. Nurture this relationship well and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.


Marsha Philitas is a leadership coach for ambitious women. Her private coaching program, Be Extraordinary, helps emerging leaders to gain the confidence and skills needed to lead in their industries.