How to Find the Right Mentor for Your Career

Lindsay Scott also shares tips for (not) publishing a book, unretiring and building a business case for professional development.

I’d like to find a mentor. Should I look only within my organization?

Everybody’s career can benefit from a mentor, but where they come from depends on what kind of guidance you need.

If you’re seeking a promotion or need help on existing projects, someone inside your org is the best option. Find a mentor who has been in your role (or a similar one) so they can truly empathize. That helps them give authentic feedback and share experiences, both good and bad, that you can apply toward advancement. Beyond that, consider approaching people above you whose skills, expertise and demeanor align with your goals.

If you’re looking to explore new opportunities, an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. The workplace environment and expectations beyond your organization might be different, so external mentors might provide a more holistic vision of how your skills stack up. Circle back with LinkedIn connections or people you’ve met at professional development events to express your desire to learn from them. Start by giving them background on your career and the next steps you hope to take so they can assess whether their insights and experiences can help you.

Another option is to work with a career coach. They can provide generic career help in areas such as boosting confidence, building relationships, managing conflict or managing time. Coaches are also great for helping you develop short-term and long-term action plans for career advancement. But coaches won’t necessarily have project management experience. They can’t tell you, for instance, which skills to hone to earn a role managing projects with more complexity.

Whether you get help from an internal mentor or find outside support, remember that any professional relationship needs time to grow. Don’t expect to get all your answers in one meeting or coffee chat. Prioritize what you want to learn and develop a reciprocal bond that ensures productive, two-way conversations. 

After many years in project management, I’d like to write a book to help the next generation. Where should I start?

There’s a funny saying: “Everyone has a book in them—and that’s where it should stay.” I don’t mean to discourage anyone who has a burning desire to churn out a book. With today’s self-publishing services, you can write a book, choose a cover, publish it and have a copy in your hands within days.

But it’s much more difficult if your goal is to write a book that’s picked up by more formal publishers. They have strict guidelines that would deter many aspiring writers. More importantly, many publishers are already saturated with ideas from the project management field. Unless your book pitch treads new ground or has a unique selling point, expect plenty of resistance.

A better option? Try starting a blog or a newsletter. Or turn each piece of advice into a post on your LinkedIn feed. Sharing your ideas on such platforms ensures engagement and provides immediate feedback that can inspire future content.

Who knows? Over time, all those posts might even form the chapters for a book.

I retired because of COVID-19, but now I’m restless. What’s the best way to find a part-time gig?

The itch to work on projects never goes away for some—and that’s particularly true for those who retired amid the disruption of the pandemic. To jump back in, tap into your network and let people know what you’re looking for.

Don’t limit your options. Start-ups, nonprofits and government entities always need project help. Or connect with community groups that are looking to launch initiatives. Organizations’ boards also need non-executive members who can provide strategic support and help manage risk. Or ask about consulting opportunities, which are typically interim senior leadership positions.

Regardless of the role, be prepared to dig deep into your network when you start to search. Many of these positions fly under the radar and aren’t posted on job sites. But don’t fret: In today’s tight job market, your experience should attract enough bits and pieces of work to keep you off the golf course. 

I need to put together a business case for professional development funding. Where do I start?

Your project role already taught you what’s included in a project-based business case, so use the same template to make the case for a training and development budget. Of course, you’ll need to cover more than just the cost of the training course. Show how the professional development will help address a problem. Explain how the organization will benefit from your increased skills and knowledge. If you can quantify those benefits in terms of money earned, time saved, quality improved or costs saved, that’s even better. Focusing on the outcomes and how they link to the organization’s objectives will help you secure approval for the budget.


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