Career Matters

By Lily Whiteman

How to find a mentor

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Remember that reassuring line “I’m on your side” from the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Bridge Over Troubled Water”? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone on your side at work — someone who would be willing and eager to offer you professional advice — a mentor?

Some potential sources of mentors:

  • Professional organizations devoted to a particular field. Find them by surfing the Web and asking colleagues and supervisors for leads. Once you find relevant organizations, search their Web sites for potential mentors and training opportunities. And if possible, participate in these organizations’ events. Even better, contribute to events in order to showcase your skills and cultivate contacts whom you may turn to as mentors.
  • Professional organizations devoted to a particular demographic. Blacks in Government and Federally Employed Women both run training and mentoring programs.

In addition, the Senior Executives Association offers a “flash” mentoring program that arranges for retired SEA members or SEA volunteers to offer advice on personal growth and career development to newly appointed members and GS-14/15 members. Each mentor-mentee pairing lasts for a one-hour one-on-one meeting.

Young Government Leaders also plans to introduce a flash mentoring program this year.

  • Federal development programs. The Senior Executive Candidate Development Program, the Executive Leadership Program, the Presidential Management Fellows program and the USDA Graduate School Executive Leadership Program mentor program participants.
  • Programs for feds at nonprofit organizations. For example, the Voyagers Program of the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council offers mentoring. The Partnership for Public Service’s Strategic Advisors to Government Executives provides mentoring to senior leaders in government from their predecessors and private-sector counterparts. This mentoring is usually designed to help mentees implement discipline-specific strategies.
  • Agency mentoring programs. Among agencies that have programs are the State and Energy departments, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, the Justice Department Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Ask your boss or your training department if your agency offers such programs.
  • Federal Executive Boards throughout the U.S. FEBs provide training programs that could lead to mentoring relationships.
  • SCORE, a program of Counselors to America’s Small Business. Through this national organization, retired business experts offer free online and in-person advice and classes to professionals who are starting or expanding their own businesses.
  • The International Mentoring Networking Organization offers mentoring from leading authorities to everyone, any time, anywhere at its Web site, www.imno.org.

Still stuck? Contact successful individuals in your field and tactfully ask for advice. You may find such individuals from these and other resources:

  • Federal Times, The Fed Page of The Washington Post, other publications devoted to federal audiences, and other books, periodicals and Web sites. If you read about someone whose achievements you would like to emulate, contact that person, tell him why you admire him and ask specific questions that would help you achieve your goals.
  • GovLoop.com, a social networking site devoted to government employees. By starting and contributing to discussions on this site, you may meet potential mentors.
  • Managers at your job. Engage potential mentors in conversations about common ground you share, your interests and their favorite topic: their own rise to the top.

Once you’ve identified potential professional confidantes:

  • Offer them assistance. By volunteering to help role models, you will generate opportunities to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
  • Engage leaders. If you reach out to conference presenters, authors, columnists, federal managers or other prominent professionals, try to bring something to the table before you request their advice by, for example, referring them to a relevant article or event.
  • Immediately express gratitude whenever someone goes out of his or her way for you. Send a card, gift or at least a thank-you e-mail, and report back to your mentor how the assistance helped you.

Are you a manager who wants to learn more about the benefits of mentoring programs? If so, search for the Office of Personnel Management’s online publication “Best Practices: Mentoring” at www.opm.gov.