How to Gain a Mentor to Advance Your Career

Cary Attl in a purple western style shirt leans against white railing in front of yachts.When you enter a new job, you may be 10X more educated and skilled than many senior managers, but unless you know how to build relationships and work with people, none of that will matter. In fact, it could be a liability. So how do you manage this complex dynamic of interpersonal relationships? This is where people like Cary Attl come in. Attl has mentored people throughout his 40-year career at AT&T and continues to build valuable relationships through his position as a member of the University of Redlands Alumni Board of Directors. We spoke with Attl to glean his advice on the value of mentorships in the workplace.

Who Needs a Mentor

A mentor is not your friend, personal coach, or therapist. They won’t fix your dating life, nor will they soften their advice to protect your feelings. A mentorship is a strictly professional relationship where the mentor has “an intrinsic, deep-rooted desire to help the next generation succeed and really flourish”, explains Attl. So, who exactly needs a mentor? Anyone who is trying to advance within the organization or finds themselves struggling within their current role and wants to improve.

Asking Someone to Mentor You

Barging into the executive suite and asking the CEO to be your mentor isn’t one of Attl’s recommendations. Rather, he advises you work to build your reputation within the workplace, observe someone who inspires you that is one to two levels above your position and outside of your direct chain of command. Then, make your ask. “Call them up and say, hey, would you mind mentoring me on an informal basis? I have questions on this or that.” And no, good leaders aren’t too busy to be asked. “After 40-years in my career, it’s clear they want to be bothered. It’s flattering to be asked and good leaders want to pay it forward.”

When a Potential Mentor Says No Thanks

When you ask someone to mentor you, there’s the risk of rejection. The reason could be unrelated to you, or because of you, but either way, your relationship doesn’t end with no. “Be sure to thank them for their time and consideration; you may be working for them one day”, advises Attl. “It’s a small world and you never know.” And if you’re fortunate, they’ll explain their reasons, especially if it’s because they have concerns about you. “Often, the best advice is not the most flattering but is the most constructive.” If the idea of radical candor and hearing hard truths about why you were rejected makes you uneasy, you may not be ready for a mentor because this is very much a part of the relationship.

Putting It All Together

The workplace can be complicated––it’s built around complex beings after all. But a worthwhile mentor can give you experiential perspective, context, insider tips and feedback to ensure you’re able to navigate the space more effectively. If you’re looking to advance your career or strengthen your standing, seek out a leader who inspires you and consider beginning with an informational interview. The biggest risk you take is being told no, but even this provides a window to grow, which is the very reason you’re seeking a mentor anyway.

The Office of Career & Professional Development offers a variety of resources to support you in your career, including seeking a mentor. Check out the resources page for more information or consider seeking a mentor on AlumniFire, where you can connect with other alumni.


By Thomas Guzowski
Thomas Guzowski Assistant Director of Marketing