Looking for a Mentor? Go for Someone Young

Often when we look for mentors, we look for people who have a great deal of experience and expertise in our field. However, according to a recent article in Psychology Today, the most experienced professionals, aren’t the best mentors. The reason? They simply don’t have the time to commit to helping a mentee:

A study from Northwestern University suggests when it comes to counseling, enthusiasm and commitment trump experience. Researchers found that successful academics did a great job mentoring during the first third of their careers, but advised poorly during the last third. Why the drop off? “They may have had too much on their plates to effectively oversee students or put themselves in their proteges places,” says study author R. Dean Malmgren.

Now, of course, if you are a professor, you’ve got a great deal of experience under your belt, regardless of how much time you have been on the job. And this is certainly true for many professions where a degree and experience are required to get in the door. But this article also made me think about another important aspect of mentoring: young professionals can be mentors too. If you have the time and ability to reflect meaningfully on your choices in a way that helps your mentee, you’ll be helping them and helping yourself. The benefits of mentoring often go both ways.

At the same, what good mentoring looks like varies, especially thanks to the access to technology. Mentoring someone on the job, like a professor might with her students is not the same as connecting with a leader in your field through blogging and forming an online relationship. I’ve had several people reach out to me to mentor them and they aren’t anywhere near NYC.

What do you think? Is it wise to go for someone in the very beginning of their careers as a mentor? How do you define a good mentoring relationship?  At what point do you no longer need a mentor?

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