Reaching career milestones and achieving all of your professional goals can be a roller-coaster ride, but it’s definitely easier with some solid support. While you might a enlist a friend’s listening ear when you’re feeling down or a colleague’s eyes to look over your updated resume, there are certain challenges (like navigating the nightmarish salary history Q) that they might never understand. In that instance, having a mentor can be a major game-changer. In fact, female execs say that mentorship is key to career success. J. Kelly Hoey, an angel investor and the author of Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships in a Hyper-Connected World, knows firsthand how it can help. Scroll on for her take on what solid mentorship looks like (hint: Good mentorship is mutually beneficial), along with how to land the mentor of your dreams.

Why Mentorship Matters

“No one ever goes at it alone,” Hoey explains. “Our careers and ambitions move forward with the help of other people.” Having mentors and serving as a good mentor to others will help you do a job well, master a new skill, or navigate the dynamics of a workplace. “My first career was as an attorney in Canada, where all law students must do an ‘articling year’ before being admitted to the practice of law,” Hoey tells us. “This early experience instilled in me an ethos of extending a hand to help others on their path to success — as a practical matter, being known as a great mentor can make it easier to recruit people to your project teams or to take on an assignment for you.”

Having been in heaps of different professional situations over the years, Hoey also breaks down the different forms mentorship can take and how they’re all ultra helpful. “When I took on a management role for the first time, I turned to the administrative assistants for mentorship on the personalities and internal office dynamics. In the New York start-up community, my mentors range from experienced investors to founders of recently launched start-ups. A couple of my current mentors are young women who interned for me in the summer of 2012,” she shares. “They may not realize this, but I learn as much from them about navigating personal relationships, balancing work and life, and time management as they do from me.” Something else we love: Hoey says that she thinks the key to mentoring is as simple as having a constant desire to learn. “Self improvement, after all, is a lifelong journey,” she reminds us. So true!

How to Land the Mentor of Your Dreams

1. Show a willingness to mentor others. “If you’re not prepared to mentor others now or in the future, then don’t approach me to be your mentor — this is non-negotiable!” She clues us in that she was helped by others along the course of her career, and now feels responsibility to pay it forward. “If you want to be mentored by me, I demand the same sense of responsibility,” she notes. Rightly so.

2. Do your research. Knock the socks off of your dream mentor by showing them how much you know about who they are and what they do. It’ll start a genuine conversation that can lead to a working relationship. Not sure how to do it? Hoey has some ideas. “Inform yourself by Googling first. I’m active on social media. I contribute to online publications. I publish a weekly newsletter. There are videos of my talks and podcasts I’ve contributed to. All of this content and data is about, you guessed it, mentoring.” She says you should definitely read, watch, and listen to anything you can about your dream mentor before reaching out.

3. Be open to changing your expectations. “Reimagine your expectations of a mentor,” Hoey advises. “I may not have the time for regular one-on-one coffee dates with you — however, like other busy people, I do have the time to answer an email.” Mentors are there to “guide you through thorny work or a professional challenge,” and that if the person can help you sort out a work challenge by answering a question via email or with a quick call, that totally counts as mentoring too.

4. Consider a mentorship group. Solid mentorship might come in the form of a group activity, so never assume a good mentoring relationship has to be one-on-one. “You can (and should) learn a lot from your peers at school or work,” Hoey notes. “I welcome the opportunity to contribute to group mentoring as it signals teamwork, open dialog, and accountability.” Hoey currently meets with a group of female employees at a New York City start-up that counts women in various stages of their career. “Together, over coffee, we discuss some of the issues they’re grappling with,” she says. “I’m a role model for this group and take on a limited facilitator role when we meet. The reality is, they’re mentoring each other.” SO awesome.

5. Take the initiative. If you want to land your dream mentor, you’ll need to be proactive about doing the work and putting yourself front and center. Hoey remembers a former mentee who made her mark. “When I was still working as an attorney with a hectic schedule, this student imagined (in my mind) that I was a great mentor. When I asked her why, she said ‘you show up when I’ve asked you to.’ The reality was that this law student scheduled the time, location, and agenda for each of our meetings — she took note of the long hours I was working. She also planned carefully and put a lot of consideration into how I could truly guide her.”

Who’s your dream mentor? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.

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