June 21, 2012

Career Advice

Distinguish Yourself: Find a Mentor

By: Roger Custer

As a young employee of a liberty organization (or any organization), you might consider finding a mentor. This person can be someone in your own organization or from another. It should be someone with considerable experience in your field, but doesn’t need to be the most senior level person.

Once you identify who you would like as your mentor, invite that person to coffee or lunch. Think about what you want to learn from that person and formulate a set of 5 or 6 questions to ask during the first meeting. Be sure to ask specific questions instead of just asking for general advice. For example, ask for specific examples and what your mentor learned from the situation. Come ready to listen, and take notes so you don’t forget what is said.

If you are nervous about using the person’s time or unsure what to discuss, don’t worry too much. Most people are happy to help and excited that you took initiative to ask them to lunch or coffee. Several professionals in their mid-30s have told me they offer themselves as mentors when speaking to interns and new staff, but few accept their offer. Distinguish yourself by learning from the experience of others.

Be sure to thank the person for his or her time after your meeting (maybe with a handwritten note) and ask if there is anything you can do to help them. If this mentor is the right fit for you, the relationship will grow to where you can bounce ideas off the mentor regularly and go to him or her when you need help or have a dilemma.

Several members of the board and executive council at AFF have been mentors to me during my first year as Executive Director and for that I am very thankful. In particular, I thank Roger Ream, Kmele Foster, and Joanna Robinson for their time and advice.

Roger Custer is Executive Director of America’s Future Foundation. Please visit the “Free the Future” blog to get regular career advice from top libertarian and conservative professionals.

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