The Mentor Checklist: Is Yours Getting the Job Done?

If you have a mentor who guides you and inspires you to reach higher than you could have ever imagined on your own, consider yourself fortunate.

For a woman leader, having a well-positioned, encouraging mentor can make all the difference in your career. “One of the main reasons why men tend to rise higher than women in the workplace,” says career consultant Amanda Augustine, “is that men are more likely than women to have mentors throughout their careers.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 Fortune The Most Powerful Women Washington, D.C., USA MPW HIGH SCHOOL NOTEBOOK MENTORING Presented By ANN INC. and Gap International MPW Mentors share career advice with high school seniors. She started as an intern, rose to top executive and now advises Starbucks, DreamWorks Animation, Groupon and Estee Lauder. A business-world star shares her lessons of life and career success. Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments Interviewer: Pattie Sellers, Fortune Photograph by Stephanie Merriken / Fortune Most Powerful Women
Flickr photo by Fortune Live Media

“I am a product of great mentors,” PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi has said. “If I hadn’t had mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

A trusted mentor can help shape your professional skills, teach you the ins and outs of your industry and introduce you to the right people to keep advancing your career.

Do You Have the Right Mentor?

By asking yourself the following questions, you’ll be able to decide whether or not your mentor is having enough positive impact on your career.

  • Does your mentor have real-world experience in your field? More importantly, do you admire this person for his or her achievements and industry experience? Your mentor should ideally be someone who perhaps has achieved the goals you hope to achieve. This person should have achieved a level of success you aspire to, regardless of their gender, age or ethnicity. “You don’t have to have mentors who look like you. Had I been waiting for a black, female Soviet specialist mentor, I would still be waiting,” said Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State. “Most of my mentors have been old white men because they were the ones who dominated my field.”
  • Is your mentor candid with you? Good mentors will share their own experiences with you and help you apply what they have learned to your own career path. He or she will should provide direct, candid answers to your questions – and often surprise you with their straightforwardness and honesty. “If you have a mentor that isn’t the most forward thinking or honest, I think that can be a bad thing,” says Alexa von Tobel, CEO and founder of LearnVest.
  • Do you have chemistry with your mentor? Compatibility is very important. It’s not about asking a successful person for advice; it’s about having someone who you can relate to and learn from. “The mentor must be supportive, communicative, inspiring and must feel that your needs are important,” said professional life coach Vittoria Adhami.
  • Can your mentor guide you toward your professional goals? While a career coach might tell you what moves to make, a mentor encourages you to find the answers yourself. “An effective mentor must be nonjudgmental, an active listener, empathetic and compassionate,” said Nola Hennessy, founder and CEO of Serenidad Consulting.
  • Does your mentor listen? Look for “someone who asks thoughtful questions and then listens to your answers,” said Nellie Akalp, CEO of “A good mentor will guide (not advise), inspire (not motivate), critique (not judge), and share ideas and opinions (not do it for you),” says Nola.
  • Does your mentor challenge you? To grow your career, you want a mentor that can push you out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you won’t make any forward progress. A good mentor will ask you the hard questions and force you to dig deep inside yourself to get in touch with your true passions. “My mentor was the one who pushed me to stop selling myself short,” said Myleik Teele, founder of curlBOX. “She would say, ‘You’re better than this.’ She pushed me until I finally believed it.”

Most importantly, the right mentor can take you to new heights, and will never let you think that you’re aiming too high.