At every stage in your career (and your life), you should be trying to meet all of the following conditions: have a mentor who is more experienced than you in a field you are interested in, have at least one partner who has similar experience for at least one new project, and mentor at least one other person who is less experienced than you. It is the right thing to do, and it will also make you more effective and build a larger network for yourself.
In many of the hundreds of interviews I have read and conducted with successful professionals, a consistent theme is how enormously beneficial it was to their success to have a great mentor. This should make intuitive sense. Working with a mentor can provide you with feedback on your plans and ideas, teach you aspects about the organization or industry (or people) you can’t find elsewhere, help you better understand your strengths and explore your potential, allow for a smoother transition into your job, grow your network, and point you in the direction of new opportunities. Mentors are at worst helpful, and at best invaluable.
To find a mentor, just ask. It’s really that simple. See if you can meet the potential mentor a few times to get a sense if they would be a good fit for you. Then, just ask. Someone either can or can’t mentor you, and if they can’t, you need to find that out right away so you can find someone else who can.
Once you have a mentor, it will take some work to keep the relationship going. Keep in mind that it’s your career and your responsibility to direct the mentoring relationship and the conversations you have with your mentor. Don’t wait for your mentor to contact you (even if they often will), but take it upon yourself to schedule the meetings, have a clear time commitment you both agree on (my favorite is to meet once every three weeks) and come ready to discuss specific topics. Don’t be shy – anything you wrote down about your plan from that chapter in the book should be great fodder for discussing with your mentor. If you run out of specifics to discuss, think of open-ended questions to ask your mentor, such as their opinions on various issues that may have opportunities for your career. The time you have together is finite, so try to use it as productively as you can. You should be friendly and get to know each other; use chit-chat about friends, family, and the weather as dressing for the conversation – but don’t let it always become the conversation if you have other, more pertinent items to discuss. Be very respectful of their time. They are volunteering it after all, so don’t let meetings run over time unless they make it clear they want it to. Listen carefully, and ask for and gratefully accept any criticism they will share with you. Don’t forget to take notes too; it is actually probably the highest form of respect you can pay a mentor.
This relationship described above is considered a “formal” mentoring relationship. You typically won’t have many of these due to the time commitment required, but you can have many informal mentoring relationships, too. Anytime you ask someone more experienced than yourself for advice, you are receiving informal mentoring. Informal mentors are an excellent way to expand your network, since they provide an easy method to keep the relationship active (seeking advice). People enjoy giving advice, and you can use that advice to do your work better. While this sounds incredibly obvious, you would be surprised how little people use their network for informal mentoring, probably due to excessive shyness, pride, or forgetfulness. When I contact my informal mentors I can tell they don’t receive these requests very often – and I know I don’t either.