Dear DFS: How Do I Find a Mentor?

Dear DFS, 

I have only been out of work for a few weeks now, but I don’t know how long this period of unemployment will last and I’m scared that I will lose my way if I stay out of work for too long.  Every now and then, I’ll hear the word “mentor” mentioned and I’m thinking that, right about now, I could really use one of those!  A little extra help in staying focused never hurts, right?  But how do I know who will make a good mentor?  And once I’ve found someone that I think would be a good one, how to I ask them?  I know that everyone is busy with their own schedules, so I don’t want to impose on anyone, but I would like someone who’s my go-to for professional advice! 

Focused and fearless, 


Augusta, GA


Dear Miranda,

What a great question and way to approach, not just your job search, but your work life as well. A mentor is an important part of your employment toolbox for a number of reasons. First, they can be a great mirror for you to glimpse a reflection of yourself in. It’s helpful to have someone who can challenge your personal self doubt because, let’s face it, we all question our abilities at times. It’s also great to have someone who can be a cheerleader and spokesperson for you when they hear about opportunities.

The advice I give about mentors is to make sure it is someone you both like and respect. Because, simply put, you are more likely to take their advice if you like and respect them. Make sure that others like and respect them, too. If they are going to advocate for you, then you want other people to trust them just as much as you do.

They should be in a higher position than the one you are in or that you want to be in. That way they can provide you with helpful tips along the way. They don’t have to be in your field of work, but it helps if they are. Someone who knows your line of work can offer great tips on trends in the field, opportunities that you might be qualified for and how to frame your cover letter or resume so that you are getting real consideration.

Have you made any connections at your former place of employment? Have you attended conferences and made connections, or do you have friends who you used to work with who have moved on to higher positions? Also, scope out some of the people at activities that you regularly attend like church, your weekly yoga class or PTA meetings.  These are some sources for good mentors. Sometimes what you’ve been looking for as been right there along!

In terms of asking—just do it!  Everyone loves a nice compliment and asking someone to be your mentor is a top-ranking nicety.  By asking someone to be your mentor, you are saying that you trust them with your career and, therefore, your livelihood.  Telling someone you respect their work and would love for them to be your mentor will usually get a positive response, but it is important to consider the time of the person you are asking.

The best way to approach this is to be organized about what you need from them. If you want someone to give you specific feedback about your resume or cover letter, or to conduct a mock interview with you, tell them that. If you want someone to consult with about your job search in general, tell them that when you are asking them to mentor you. Remember that if it is not working for you, there is no rule against you finding another mentor. You need to find the right fit for you. A really good mentor can be an invaluable tool and can help you stay grounded during your job search. You are asking all the right questions, so I know you will find the perfect match!

Best wishes,

Harriet Williams

Executive Director

Dress for Success Burlington

(Photo by Steve Knight Photography)

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