Identifying and Approaching a Great Mentor

27 Aug


Submitted by the SAAPHI Mentoring & Professional Development Affairs Committee

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” –William Arthur Ward

Whether you are a student, in the early stages of your career, or a more seasoned public health professional, engaging in effective mentoring relationships is an important component of professional development. Your first steps in being a great mentee include identifying and approaching a great mentor.

One of the best ways to identify a potential mentor is to speak with other junior and senior colleagues whom you respect and ask them to recommend potential mentors. Be specific when asking for mentor recommendations. These means that you need to know what you want and need out of a mentoring relationship. For example, would you like to connect with someone who has experience working in a variety of settings, or with someone who has only worked in one area of public health? Do you feel it necessary to receive mentorship from someone of the same gender and/or race/ethnicity as yourself? Are you looking for someone who can provide guidance in a specific area of public health, or are you looking for general career guidance? How much and what do you want to have in common with your mentor in terms of professional interests? Does it matter if that person is close in proximity, or are you willing to receive mentorship from across the state or country? You should always ask that colleagues recommend mentors who are trustworthy and have a reputation for providing high quality guidance to others who are in your career stage.

Once you have your list of potential mentors, set up an introductory meeting with each individual. Remember that some of your potential mentors may be quite busy doing what makes them sought after as mentors. You may need to be politely persistent in setting up your first meeting. If you do not receive a response via phone or email, you may wish to request an e-introduction by the colleague who recommended the potential mentor.

The purpose of the introductory meeting is to determine your compatibility for a mentoring relationship. In addition to discussing backgrounds and interests, you will also need to identify your goals and mentoring needs clearly and succinctly. After your meeting, be sure to follow up with a thank you note; include proposed next steps for the individual(s) with whom you would like to begin a formal mentoring relationship.

It is possible to have different mentors for different areas of your professional and personal life. You do not need to limit yourself to one mentor. However, remember that mentoring relationships are just like other relationships – they require time and commitment. As a mentee, you must follow through with tasks assigned to you, and you should expect the same of your mentor. Additionally, the person that you identify to be a mentor should not only tell you about opportunities, he/she should also be able to explain why those opportunities are a great fit for you, have a track record that demonstrates successfully engagement in similar opportunities, and inspire you to pursue those and other opportunities to advance your career.

For more information on cultivating great mentoring relationships, see:

Ammerman, C. & Tseng, V. 2011. Maximizing mentoring: A guide for building strong relationships. New York, NY: The William T. Grant Foundation.

Zerzan, J.T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R.S., & Rigotti, N. 2009. Making the most of mentors: A guide for mentees. Acad Med, 84(1), 140-144.


One Response to “Identifying and Approaching a Great Mentor”

  1. Ndidi September 12, 2013 at 3:32 am #

    Great article!

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