Finding a mentor, becoming a mentor

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Deirdre Gurry
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Safety Office

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Mentorship is a hot topic in the Air Force and has been for many years.

We often hear about the importance of mentorship and career advice. The Air Force has even created a website for connecting mentors and mentees --

But have you ever wondered, “How did these mentors become mentors?”

People who are mentors are people who have paid attention and mimicked their own mentors.

This concept is very important. You should not approach “finding a mentor” as something you are doing for yourself and your own career. Instead, you should always keep in mind that you will be a mentor for someone else someday.

This accomplishes two things. First, it will keep you open to more opportunities, and second, you will learn more about your career field than only the parts that you think are important to you.

For example, you are a newly selected major considering which professional development courses would work best for you. You take a look at the list and decide you should find a mentor that can help you make the decision. Your mentor explains a few options that might be best for you based on your background and educational experience.

This is where you make a choice. You can either take your mentor’s advice and just go fill out your worksheet or you can take this opportunity to ask about the other options on the list and who they may be good for.

This discussion might spark your interest in something you want to pursue in the future and at the same time prepare you to answer this question when someone comes to you and asks, “Which school should I choose?”

If you don’t ask your mentor when you have the opportunity, you will have a very hard time explaining to a mentee what opportunities are available and how they can enhance a career.

Now let’s take a look at how to become a mentor. I took a simple list from the Internet about “finding a mentor” and turned it around and asked, “How can I fit this description?”

To find a mentor -- select a mentor who is a good role model. To become a mentor – be a good role model.

To find a mentor -- select a mentor who is a good listener. To become a mentor -- be a good listener.

To find a mentor -- select a mentor who levels with you. To become a mentor -- be honest and truthful about a person’s best options.

To find a mentor -- make personal contact. To become a mentor -- be ready when people ask you for advice.

That last one may be the hardest. We all tend to go through our careers and make choices that are best for us and how we can succeed. But we need to be ready to give advice to others when they ask for it.

While being mentored, take the opportunity to ask questions about stuff that doesn’t interest you. Ask about things that you might not qualify for. Ask about opportunities that you would never want to do but you may suggest to someone else.

In the end, whether you realize it or not, you are already a mentor. Every one of us, regardless of rank, is a mentor.

We have all answered questions about our career paths and how we got there. Even airmen basics get asked by younger civilians -- “How do I join the Air Force?”