I was lucky. In my first job after college, I had a great mentor who took an active role in my career development.

He pushed. I listened.

Actually, make that hung on every word. Because the fact anyone would take time out of their schedule to coach a newbie like me was a gift...and I knew it.

Example: When I asked for a raise, he made me demonstrate I was worth it by...

  • Reading a series of books. (How to Win Friends and Influence People, etc.)
  • Writing a paper about what I learned from each one.
  • Finding an operational problem in the office and solving it using TQM processes. (The result was a binder of information and charts.)

Along the way, there were a lot of naysayers who thought he was just stalling because he didn't want to pay me more or give me the promotion. In fact, many people I spoke to were borderline appalled someone would have to jump through so many hoops to earn a raise they were probably entitled to anyway.

But I knew better.

Eventually, I did get the promotion and I'm sure it's not surprising I was better prepared to tackle the new challenges because of all of the pre-work I had done in advance. Since then, my old boss has had many new professionals work under him and yet he's had no official mentee since me. When I asked him why, he said No students.

In other words, finding a mentor is only half the battle. After that, you must be a good student. Listen gratefully. Apply what you've learned to your work. Demonstrate enthusiasm so he/she feels their investment in you is meaningful. It's not the quickest route to success by any stretch, but I promise you the journey is its own reward.