Want a mentor but don't know how to go about finding one? Check out these tips for finding, and keeping, career mentors.

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A popular piece of career advice is “get a mentor.” Do you ever think to yourself, “Yeah, but how, exactly?” Well, basically, you just ask. Some thoughts:

First, be clear on why you want a mentor. Are you looking for advice? A sounding board? Or a conduit to your industry’s movers and shakers?

When asking someone to be your mentor, explain why you’re asking and what you’d expect out of the relationship (see above). Don’t be afraid to be flattering (e.g., “I’m asking you because you are the most successful person I know”).

If you ask someone to be your mentor and that person refuses, don’t be offended. It’s not personal! Potential good mentors are busy people. Say thanks for the consideration, and ask for a referral.

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Think beyond former bosses and professors. Consider older family members, friends, neighbors, spiritual leaders, community leaders, or officials of professional or trade associations you belong to.

However, avoid asking your direct supervisor at work. You want to be free to discuss workplace issues as well as your plans for future advancement.

Choose a mentor you truly respect; don’t just go for the biggest name you can find.

Before asking for a commitment, consider simply asking for input on a single specific topic. How did that go? Was it good advice?

Beware of mentors who are bossy, controlling or judgmental. This is your path, not theirs.

Look for ways to reciprocate the help your mentor offers. At the very least, you can occasionally spring for lunch.

When a mentor’s advice really works out for you, report back. People love hearing about their role in a success story.

Remember that mentoring can take many forms. It can be a monthly lunch, a quarterly phone call, a weekly handball game or merely a steady email correspondence. Your mentor does not even have to live in your city or region.

Don’t become too dependent on your mentor. In fact, you may not take every bit of advice he or she offers. Continue to think for yourself.

Finally, you’re allowed to have more than one mentor. You can have a whole committee, if you want. Consider choosing different mentors for different facets of your professional (and even personal) life.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at wg@karenburnsworkinggirl.com.