03/20/2013 12:16 pm ET Updated May 20, 2013

How Do I Find the Right Mentor?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get from women in corporate positions and from entrepreneurs alike is how to find the right mentor. We have seen a rise of discussion about mentorship in business circles of all kinds in recent years. Yet it seems that finding the right one is still challenging to many.

It's easy to understand why. Not all people with experience necessarily make good mentors. It takes a certain emotional intelligence (EQ) to be a valuable mentor. Conversely, all people seeking mentors do not often know what they hope to gain from a mentor.

Let's start with what I would consider the most important factor in establishing a productive mentor/mentee connection. First, one has to establish a relationship. This should be someone you admire in your company or in your industry with whom you already have some communication and familiarity. If you don't have that, it is important to look for ways to bridge the gap. You can do this by offering up your assistance on a project, a task force and industry wide initiative, or by participating in a common interest for example on a health issue, a hobby or a community event. There are numerous ways to get to know people and one has to use imagination in order to make those connections.

Once a relationship is established, think through what it is you are seeking from a mentor. Remember, people in a position to give you guidance are likely to be very busy people. Therefore, they will be making a decision as to whether or not they want to spend their time helping you. You will advance your request if you make clear what it is you are seeking advice about. Rather than being vague and general in making a request of someone, if you are clear about the advice you are seeking, you have a much better chance of getting a positive reply.

Once a mentor is secured, be very mindful of using your mentor's time wisely. You might find that there are ways to exchange values, providing the mentor with information on something of interest to them. Creating this two-way street is the best way to develop a long-term relationship. It will provide the best opportunity to turn a mentor into a sponsor, someone who has an interest in seeing you advance your career.