Working with mentors to support your career goals! – UW Graduate School Skip to content

Working with mentors to support your career goals!

We all have different mentors in our life. These people have our best interest in mind and are able to guide and support our professional and personal development. In your personal life, look for advisors who are compassionate, enthusiastic, generous, honest, insightful, selfless and wise. In your professional life, it is imperative to find mentors who are collaborative, intellectual, knowledgeable, accessible, and visionary. In both, it is important to have mentors who will challenge and support you in doing your best work and being your best self. For additional desirable mentor traits, see Cho et al. (2011) in which mentor nomination letters were analyzed for traits among those who supported the careers of junior faculty. And remember, look for multiple mentors — a single person cannot provide all of the support and encouragement you need! See Graduate School Mentor Memos on Building Your Mentoring Team and What a Good Mentor Does.

Once you identify your champions, build a thoughtful relationship to ensure that it is productive and continues to prioritize your long-term goals. In Mapping a Mentoring Roadmap and Developing a Supportive Network for Strategic Career Advancement, Montgomery (2017) outlines the steps necessary to support a productive mentor-mentee relationship. In addition, in Making the most of mentors: A guide for mentees, Zerzan et al. (2009) provide a very clear checklist to consider as you identify mentors and build your relationships. Briefly:

  1. Self Reflection: Before setting up a meeting with your mentor, figure out what you need in a mentor. What unique skills and experiences do they have that will benefit your career or personal goals? Do you need a team of mentors (hint: the answer is yes!)?
  2. Getting Started: Set an agenda with your interests in mind. How often should you formally meet? Be sure to set goals and follow-up with an emailed list of action items so that expectations are clear to both you an your mentor. For additional tips, see Managing Up.
  3. Maintenance: Be sure to sustain regular contact with your mentor. If you’ve agreed to future milestones, be sure to meet them or discuss more realistic goals if necessary.
  4. Moving Ahead: Your life will evolve. At some point, you will be less reliant on your current mentors and will need to identify more relevant advisors. Be open with you mentor, re-evaluate your relationship, and gracefully transition to your next phase. However, be sure to maintain a positive relationship, as your mentor already invested a great deal of effort in you. They will want to see you continue to be successful and you may find yourself relying on them in the future.

Above all else, keep all lines of communication open. You may have a great plan for your personal and professional development. However, if you and your mentor don’t communicate, then you won’t be working towards the same finish line.



  • Cho, C. S. (2011). Defining the ideal qualities of mentorship: A qualitative analysis of the characteristics of outstanding mentors. The American Journal of Medicine, 124 (5), 453–458.
  • Montgomery, B. L. (2017). Mapping a mentoring roadmap and developing a supportive network for strategic career advancement. SAGE Open. 1–13.
  • Zerzan, J. T. (2009). Making the most of mentors: a guide for mentees. Academic Medicine, 84 (1), 140–144.