Two women speak to the significance of networking in your industry at large.

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After weeks of networking—and scrolling through dozens of LinkedIn profiles—you've finally found someone who would be the perfect mentor. But, before you slide into someone's DMs, it's important to understand that mentorship is a marathon, not a sprint. "Don't send an email asking someone to mentor you right off the bat," explains Alexa Curtis, the founder of Be Fearless Summit who recently launched a Mentor Match program. "Mentorship is most efficient when the relationship has been built and both of you are familiar with one another." Curtis says that a more practical way of approaching the conversation is by scheduling a call with your potential mentor to see if they have any business opportunities for you or are hiring interns. Once you're on the call and have established a baseline relationship, you can weave the question in.

It doesn't matter if you're climbing up the corporate ladder or taking the leap of faith to become your own boss; no two career paths are alike. But, while your professional journey is entirely your own, it's great to have a mentor to help you navigate the ups and downs of your career—and cheer you on along the way. "Having a mentor is like having someone to touch a hot stove for you and learning the lesson without having to get burned yourself," explains Jen Ngozi, founder of NetWerk, a global organization of women in leadership. "My mentor plays a valuable role in building my movement by challenging my thinking and allowing me to learn from all the hot stoves he's touched in life and business."

On the hunt for a mentor, but don't know where to start? Read on to learn how to find a great mentor to enhance your career.

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Credit: Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

Where to Find a Mentor

Though finding the perfect mentor seems like the professional equivalent to a needle in a haystack, it can actually be a lot easier than you'd think. To get started, Ngozi recommends looking within your personal network. "Take an honest look at those you know who reflect the life and career you aspire to have," she explains. "If this isn't anyone you know personally, you can tap into social networks or local interest groups." Ngozi and Curtis both recommend platforms like LinkedIn, SCORE, or career-specific Facebook groups.

When searching for a mentor, you might assume that you need to find someone who is just like you, but Ngozi stresses that this doesn't always have to be the case. "The perfect mentor may not be whom you expect," she explains. "Be open to different career levels and cultures. As a young, BIPOC woman, some of my best mentors have been older white gentlemen. Bringing an open mind to the mentorship relationship is key!" And, contrary to popular belief, a mentor doesn't have to be in your exact industry, either. "For example, if you're in the beauty industry and looking to launch an e-commerce store, a mentor that has built several successful e-commerce brands could be valuable to you even if they don't have direct experience in the beauty industry," Ngozi explains.

Whether they don't have enough time in their day or can't help you reach your specific goals, it is possible a prospective mentor will kindly decline the opportunity. The rejection might sting, but Ngozi says it's important not to get discouraged. Who knows? Even if someone isn't the right fit, they might be able to introduce you to someone else who is the right fit. "You might go through some rejections before getting to a 'yes,'" she adds. "Remember to be patient with yourself while looking for a mentor!"

Qualities to Look for in a Mentor

The million-dollar question: How do you know if you've found a mentor? Well, it depends on your professional needs. "A potential mentor's personal and professional lives should resemble the future you want," explains Ngozi. "[They] should be someone with experience in the areas [that you're] trying to develop and is willing and able to help you grow. You'll want to make sure that a mentor has the availability to take on a mentee, as the relationship is an investment on both parties."

Speaking of which, it's important that you are clear and straight-forward about your mentoring needs. "The biggest mistake a person can make when finding a mentor is going into the relationship having no idea what you want from your mentor," adds Curtis. "If you're just looking to talk to someone during the week, that's not fair to your mentor because they're working with you to see you grow professionally and personally. Know the advice you want, the ideas you have that you need help on, and be honest with your mentor and yourself."

Though having a mentor seems like a good idea, many professionals don't consider it as essential as, say, a 401(k) or packed resume. Yet, Curtis believes it can be a lot more than a working relationship. "Many women and men suffer from imposter syndrome that leads them to believe they aren't 'enough'—in business, in relationships, in anything," explains Curtis. "But, mentorship helps create new conversations, and paves the way for a new generation of stronger and more independent leaders."

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