Mentors can show you how to grow in your current position or help give you the confidence to explore a new career. Regardless of the field, having someone there to listen or just be your cheerleader is invaluable. Business leader Cate Gutowski offers advice for finding that helping hand, no matter what stage your career is in. 

By Cate Gutowski
Illustration by José Louis Merino

Like Attracts Like

It may sound obvious, but seek out a mentor who has a role, career or work/life balance that you aspire to. It could be someone you know personally—from work, church, your kids’ school, your social circle—or even someone you’ve never met who seems to have an amazing career that inspires you. Give some thought to people you know who can guide and teach you.


Do Not Be Shy

Once you’ve identified your role model, make the connection. Let them know why you are reaching out by sharing what you admire about them and what you hope to learn. Too intimidating? Seek out a mutual connection (perhaps via LinkedIn) and request an introduction. Sure, it can be a bit daunting, but remember, this is your future success we’re talking about. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no. And even then they may refer you to someone else.

It’s About Skills, Not Job Titles

Set your goals in advance of the first meeting, which can be in person or by phone or email, and create a skills inventory. I learned this from one of my GE mentors. His advice was simple but important: “Don’t chase a job or a title.” Instead, think carefully about the skills you’ve gained, the ones you want to develop, and those you’ll need to achieve your goals. Once you have an understanding of the skills you are lacking, focus on jobs, volunteer work or other activities that can help you acquire them.

Be Prepared

The Boy Scout motto applies to mentoring too. Before each discussion, create a list of topics you want to explore and explain to your mentor how their insights will benefit your development. Then ask your mentor if you can assist with any areas they’re hoping to strengthen. After all, it should be a two-way street. A woman I was mentoring reverse-mentored me in emerging technologies, helping prepare me for my current job.

Show Your Appreciation

In a digital world, a handwritten thank-you is more memorable than an email. Update your mentor on your progress, and always express thanks for their specific contributions. Showing appreciation makes them more likely to continue to help others and lets them know their time and wisdom were of value to you. 

And remember, just as you are looking up to somebody to guide you, there’s likely someone else looking up to you. Remember to pay it forward, and seek out opportunities to do the same for those who follow you. You will come to find that you truly do reap what you sow.

Cate Gutowski is the vice president of GE Commercial and Digital Thread. She created GE’s global leadership-through-storytelling initiative, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It.”