We hear it all the time: To get ahead at work, you need to find a mentor.
But doing so can be easier said than done. Just who are you supposed to call on and what are you supposed to ask?
One person who has relied heavily on mentors to steer her career is 36-year-old Jayna Cooke. Her mentors guided her through the ranks at Groupon before she went on to found her own start-up.
Now, as the CEO of EVENTup, an online marketplace for events venues, she too has become a mentor to junior colleagues, Cooke told CNBC Make It.
She says it all boils down to five simple steps:
1. First, ask yourself where you're looking for growth; be it in public speaking, people management, industry knowledge, or anything else related to your career.
2. Next, find someone in your social circle who is succeeding in that area. That could be your boss, a friend, a colleague, or even the CEO of a company.
It's common to think that person needs to be older than you and in a directly related field. But, according to career expert Suzy Welch, they just need to have a skill you wish to learn.
3. Reach out to them and start to form a relationship by taking an interest in how they got to where they are. "Ask them what had been most helpful to them — was it certain books they would recommend, was it other people in their life, was it college, etc.," said Cooke.
Not everyone will respond to a request from a stranger. But be humble and you may be surprised by how willing people are to help out.
4. Think about what you can do to be helpful to them too. It may not always be obvious, and you may not be able to add value right away, but it's important to give as well as take.
5. Lastly, be grateful. "It's important to show appreciation for their time," said Cooke.
"Whether it is five minutes, a quick email, or a long chat make sure they know you are listening, you are taking their advice and you are grateful," she noted.
How long you maintain that relationship with your mentor is up to you. Welch suggests it can be anywhere from a day, to a month, to much longer — as long as both sides agree to it.
That relationship will more likely to be ongoing, developing in ebbs and flows along the way, Cooke said.
"For me, mentors have always been constant and present in my life. However, there are times you need their help and advice more than others," said Cooke.
"Having just gone through my first acquisition experience, I leaned heavily on the mentors in my life for advice on how to navigate the process for the best possible outcome."
"There are also times and months on end where I do not speak with my mentors. Some people like to have more structure involved and set up monthly meetings," she added.
However, she cautioned that is is important not to ask too much from a mentor and wear the relationship out.
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