Most psychologists learn early in graduate school the importance of finding good mentors. When you enter the workplace, this strategy becomes even more important, early-career experts say.

"Mentors are the key to transitioning and being successful long-term," says Rosanna Ventrone, PsyD, manager of executive assessment at BeamPines, a national human resources consulting firm. "They give you a barometer for how you're performing, which is essential during your early career."

Some advice for finding these valuable guides:

  • Know what you're looking for. Before you start your search, figure out what you need in a mentor. Is it a more senior person who can brief you on the organization's culture? A colleague who can teach you specific new skills?

David DeMatteo, JD, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Treatment Research Institute, sought out mentors who had similar or complementary interests; who could take the time and were willing to take the relationship seriously; and who loved what they did.

"You want a good match," DeMatteo says. "I'm passionate about my work, and I need that in a mentor."

  • More is better. It is fine-in fact desirable-to have more than one mentor, DeMatteo adds. Colleagues have different attributes to contribute, and given the time it takes to mentor someone properly, it's a good idea to "spread the wealth," he notes.

Ventrone, for instance, was fortunate to have a talented male supervisor guide her in the language of business. But she also looked for more experienced, successful female mentors. These colleagues shared strategies to help her hone her presence to be assertive but not aggressive-subtle differences that can influence a client relationship, she notes.

  • Seek honesty. Candor-always an important trait in mentors-is especially important to find at first, Ventrone adds.

"When you enter a job, it's difficult to know the markers of whether you're doing well," she explains. "You want someone who will give you honest feedback."

Similarly, as you move forward, find people who will help you grow professionally, she advises. "I look for people who continue to challenge my thinking, keep me on my toes and make sure my game is sharp."

-T. DeAngelis