10 qualities to look for in a career mentor

January 22, 2015

Finding a career mentor can really help as you develop your professional skills and move up the ladder.

But what kind of person makes a good mentor? Here are 10 qualities to look for:

1. Role model status.

A mentor should be a true role model for your career, someone you would like to emulate professionally. Seek out someone who has met and overcome similar challenges to advancement in the workforce.

2. Good chemistry or compatibility with you.

Informal mentoring relationships usually happen when you have a good rapport with a person—you connect on a personal level. For a more formal mentoring relationship, you should make sure you are also compatible with your mentor. You need someone who has the experience and understanding to help you in your professional development.

3. Strong communicator and coach.

A mentor should be able to give you direct, constructive feedback. This means telling you how to improve and correct missteps, but it also should include celebrating your successes. Both should be done in a timely manner for maximum impact.

4. Optimistic and encouraging.

Look for someone who can see opportunities in challenges and isn’t afraid to tackle a tough issue head-on. This kind of mentor will help you through professional difficulties with a smile on your face.

5. Respected by colleagues.

Typically, a mentor is someone you look up to. Finding a person who is respected and admired by coworkers, employees and peers pretty much seals that deal.

6. Offers access to a wide network of colleagues in your industry.

A good mentor has a diverse network of colleagues in your industry. Personal introductions to these industry leaders can be crucial to broadening your own knowledge of opportunities outside your company.

7. Successful, but always improving.

Seek out someone who already has some career success under their belt, but is always working on how they can develop their skills—with books, training, conferences, networking, etc. You can follow their lead in professional development.

8. Willingness and ability to share and support.

Someone could have all of the right skills and expertise you’d want in a mentor, but if they’re not willing to share their wisdom or don’t genuinely support your goals, forget about it. Look for a mentor who is open to telling you about their successes and failures on the road to career advancement.

9. Available when you need them.

This doesn’t mean your mentor should be at your beck and call, but it also shouldn’t take weeks to hear back from them. Find someone who is willing to have regular meetings with you and can also be available by phone or email, as needed.

10. Values the opinions of others, no matter what.

Career mentor Bud Bilanich says this applies to negative opinions, too. “My best mentor always told me to listen most carefully to the people with whom I disagreed – in that way, I might learn something. And, he was right.”

Ideally, the mentor you choose will exhibit as many of these qualities as possible.


This is the third post in a four-part series on mentorship in celebration of National Mentoring Month. Related posts:


The Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.

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