This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar, with a focus on five insights to consider when selecting a mentor.

As a higher education faculty or staff member, administrator, or other higher education leader, mentorship is critical to our professional development and growth. In conversations with colleagues, we frequently discuss that we are constantly recommended to find mentors, but not given much advice on what to look for in a mentor. Therefore, for this post I provide five insights I’ve learned to help you in selecting a mentor.

Seek a genuine connection that’s trustworthy

When seeking a mentor it is imperative that you find someone who you trust and can build a genuine connection with. While this is not directly related to the technical aspects of mentoring, I find it hard to be supported by someone who you have no connection with and you feel is not trustworthy. 

What does trustworthy look like to me? I am referring to an individual who is always able to keep your best interests at heart and they’re someone who you can confide in without your conversations being discussed with others. From my experience, you can learn about someone and their character through the current individuals they mentor. Are those individuals satisfied with their mentor/mentee relationship? Sometimes asking other mentees will give you insight into someone you are seeking to be mentored by.

They’re willing to listen, along with give advice

Some of the best mentors I’ve had are those who are willing to listen in addition to giving advice. Listening is an important skill when cultivating a mentoring relationship, and you should look for a mentor who seeks to understand your unique situation and then provides advice tailored to your needs. If you find that you are developing a relationship with a mentor who does not listen to you and your experience, seek another mentor. This one-sided relationship may eventually lead to frustration. Plus, who wants a mentor that isn’t interested in supporting their personal career journey or growth?

Seek someone who will commit time to mentor

As professionals, our lives are pulled in a variety of directions and priorities. I think it’s fair to say that there is often a shortage of time, but when seeking a mentor, it is important to find someone who is willing to find and spend the time mentoring you. I have witnessed a number of individuals who want to be mentored by a recognized name in their field and have found—in some cases—that these mentor relationships do not blossom because the mentor does not have enough time to devote to the mentee. Therefore, I would recommend that you find a mentor who commits the time to interact with you to develop a mentorship.

Find a willingness to provide critical feedback

In order to grow professionally, it is important to have mentors who will push you outside your comfort zone. When looking for a mentor, seek someone who is willing to provide critical feedback. My advice here is to also develop a team of mentors who can provide critical feedback on various aspects of your career such as job and funding applications and interview preparation.

Remember, you also bring value to the mentor

Interestingly, we often seek mentors because they bring us value in a variety of ways. However, when seeking out a mentor, I am always looking for someone that I too can provide value and advice to. This is especially important to me—being a genuine mentor takes time and energy—and I always want my mentors to know that I value them. For instance, one of my mentors suggested we work on a special issue of a journal on a particular topic together.  I leveraged our conversation, went and spoke with a journal editor that I had a relationship with from meeting at an academic conference, and turned the idea into a special issue! My mentor and I served as co-editors on this journal issue, and subsequently are planning a co-edited book. Our mentor relationship has brought us both value!

What do you look for in a mentor? Feel free to send me your responses via Twitter so that we can continue this conversation!


Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. Dr. Goings is also the founder of The Done Dissertation Coaching Program which provides individual and group dissertation coaching for doctoral students. For more information about Dr. Goings’ research please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings) and for more information about The Done Dissertation Coaching Program visit www.thedonedissertation.com.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.


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