How to Choose the Right Engineering Mentor

How to Choose the Right Engineering Mentor

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Navigating a career in engineering and figuring out how to get ahead can be daunting, especially if you're trying to do it alone. No matter how successful you are, you'll get where you want to go faster with a little help from an informed source, and that’s exactly what a mentor does.  A mentor can help you set reasonable goals and achieve them, avoid career mistakes, and navigate social politics or bureaucracy.

Here are a few tips on how to choose the right engineering mentor to help you grow and develop as a professional in the field. For more helpful engineering advice, news and career opportunities subscribe to here.

A Mentor with Experience in Your Field or Specialty

Obviously, a mentor who is experienced in the engineering field is going to be able to assist you with more knowledge and expertise that is relevant to your subject of interest. Ideally, you should look for a mentor who is employed in your desired type of role – for example, if you are a mechanical engineer, you should choose an experienced, senior-level mechanical engineer to mentor you. New, fresh out of school professionals should find an experienced engineer in their specialty to mentor them, and so on.

Location, Location, Location

Although digital communication has significantly improved the way we connect and exchange information when it comes to mentoring - nothing can substitute contact in person. Always go for a mentor who lives close nearby as this facilitates them to guide you through situations that may be specific to your area, such as social, economic, or legal issues, which may affect your role. For example, engineering standards and best practices vary from country to country, and even state to state for many mid-level providers. Additionally, a local mentor will be up-to-date on all upcoming regional and national conventions you could attend to network and explore potential job opportunities.  

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Look for a Good Balance of Similarities and Differences

Selecting an engineering mentor who you have little in common with will make it difficult to relate to that person on a professional level as well. A mentor who shares your interests, opinions on social, political and economic topics and even some hobbies and passions will add more value to your career development. In fact, it is important to let their strengths balance out your weak areas to help you grow in your desired specialty.

Mentors can be one of the most powerful weapons for an up-and-coming engineer as they provide guidance, wisdom and connections. They can help you navigate the daily challenges at the beginning of your career by giving you valuable insight into what steps you should actually take to achieve professional realization.

Form a Mutual Relationship

It is important to keep in mind that forming a mentor-mentee relationship must be a mutual process. While it’s the mentor’s responsibility to provide guidance on career management that is applicable to the engineering sector and your specialty, ultimately, it’s your choice whether or not (and how) to apply it. A mentor can help you identify social and business pitfalls, but you can still fail to avoid them. This is why, in a way, it’s more important for an engineering mentor to be authentic, empathetic, creative and honest to lead you through difficult times and speak truthfully about your poor career decisions, so you can actually make constructive changes and sound decisions.

Being able to deliver constructive criticism, or a much needed reality check is part of what an engineering mentor does. If they’re in the same field as you they will be able to better understand your professional challenges and concerns, although even if they’re only in the same industry it can be sufficient. Sometimes seeing the bigger picture and sharing a similar value system in leadership and management is enough to give a person the direction they need to better manage their engineering career.

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