5 Things to Look for in a Virtual Mentor

5 Things to Look for in a Virtual Mentor

virtual mentors to help advance your career
Expand your career support network: Consider virtual mentors (Image: Thinkstock)

Most professionals desire access to a quality mentor whom they can learn from and emulate. But what makes a good mentor? According to media mogul Oprah Winfrey, “a mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” I wholeheartedly agree!

Now, you might think that your boss should be the one to help you with this magnificent discovery and help you get from point A to point B; but it doesn’t always work like that! As I discussed in my previous column (“The Problem with Traditional Mentoring“), securing a mentor can be challenge…until now.

You can either wait for someone to take an interest in you, or you can be proactive and take an interest in others who are already interested in helping you–someone like a virtual mentor.

Virtual mentoring is essentially distance coaching that takes place online, during group tele-seminars and one-on-one coaching via the telephone, or on social media. Your virtual mentor can be an expert (which I highly recommend) who has dedicated his or her career to mastering a subject or skill and then teaching others how to do the same. Alternatively, your virtual mentor may not be a formal business coach. Instead, he or she could be a professional who is an industry leader or someone whose career path and success you admire.

Clearly, the Internet makes accessing information easier than ever before. Now that we live an interactive, web 2.0 world, we can do more than just access information, we can engage it and interact with it before we apply it.

This is extremely significant for executives (and entrepreneurs) alike — although I don’t think most realize it. You see, now you can gain direct access to a person or community of thought leaders that are committed to your development. And, trust me, you need someone who is a dedicated to making sure you win in the marketplace. You need a virtual mentor, but you need the right one.

Here the top 5 things you should look for in a virtual mentor.

  1. Proven Expertise. You want to make sure that the person you are looking to has been where you want to go. Otherwise, you will likely waste your time following someone who is essentially incapable of effectively guiding and leading you.
  2. Proven Ability. Having business acumen does not necessarily mean you can teach it! Too many professionals look to people who are successful, but poor teachers. A great mentor is a great teacher. Search for someone who has the proven ability to teach and get results in helping others grow.
  3. Genuine Concern. The problem with having a traditional mentor randomly assigned to you is that the mentor may or may not have a sincere interest in developing you. The success rates of “assigned” mentors are pitifully low. In looking for a virtual mentor, you get to pick who YOU want. You can search for subject matter experts who have a genuine passion about developing you.
  4. Frequency. When selecting a virtual mentor, assess how frequently the individual provides content and information. You should be able to “test-drive” the virtual mentor with little or no investment. I recommend you treat it like a trial period where you can assess the frequency and quality of information shared. For example, when someone joins my network, they are able to connect with me via a weekly newsletter, read my book (which has tons on advice), or by keeping up with me on Twitter or Facebook. In this capacity, I get to virtually mentor thousands of people everyday. Information provided by any virtual mentor should be easily and readily accessible.
  5. Selectivity. Make sure that the virtual mentor you are evaluating is selective and focused in the material they choose to cover. Be very wary of generalists — a person who claims to be an expert in everything! Further, you need to be selective, too. The downside of the Internet is there can be too much information, which can make it challenging for you to stay focused. Confused people do nothing! So, make sure that you avoid information overload, which is a common by-product of listening to too many people. Find the expert that resonates well with you and stick with that person.

Remember, what you listen to ultimately leads you. Listening to the right virtual mentor (or mentors) is key to moving in the right direction.

In the next installment, I will share some advice on how to develop a relationship with a virtual mentor who is not a professional business coach. In the interim, share with me your thoughts.

What criteria would you add to the list? Do you think there any downsides to virtual mentoring? Leave your comments below!

I look forward to hearing from you.

Marshawn Evans, Esq., is a weekly career columnist for BlackEnterprise.com. She is President of ME Unlimited LLC, a peak performance agency, and is Founder of ME University® – the industry’s premier resource for profitable brand strategy. She is author of the bestselling book, SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life (2008). Connect with her online at www.marshawnevans.com, on Twitter at @marshawnevans and on Facebook at ME Unlimited by Marshawn Evans.

Have a question for Marshawn? Continue the conversation on her BE INSIDER NING page at beinsider.ning.com/MarshawnEvans.