A mentor is a person with more experience in business, or simply in life, who can help you hone your abilities and advise you on navigating new challenges. A mentor can be a boon in a broad range of scenarios, whether he or she provides pointers on business strategy, bolsters your networking efforts, or acts as a confidante when your work-life balance gets out of whack.
—“How to Find a Mentor,” Inc.com
Sounds awesome right? However, finding and landing the right mentor is easier said than done. These tips may help you accomplish this goal.
Determine What You Hope to Achieve
When trying to identify who will be a good mentor, start with the end in mind. Figure out what you want to gain from a mentor and how she can help you reach your goals. Understanding what you hope to achieve in the relationship will help you narrow down which candidates to approach.
At the same time, ask yourself what you can offer to a mentor that will make the relationship worthwhile for her. Remember, mentoring is a two-way street. In order to entice someone to mentor you (especially someone you don’t know), you need a clear understanding of what you can bring to the table.
Know what you want before approaching anyone about establishing a mentoring relationship. Pinpointing in advance what’s important to you will save time and hassle—for both you and your potential mentors.
Search for a Mentor
Many companies are establishing formal mentoring programs because they demonstrably improve employee retention. If your employer’s HR department offers such a program, find out the application requirements. Keep in mind that an employer program is usually designed to help you meet specific goals within an organization. So depending on what you’re hoping to achieve from a mentor relationship, your company program may not be aligned with your personal goals, and you’ll need to look elsewhere.
If your company doesn’t have a program (or the one it has doesn’t fit your needs), review your own network for potential mentors. Possibilities include executives within your company, connections via LinkedIn, alumni from your alma mater, or people you know through other industry sources or group affiliations. Networking events, conferences, and trade shows can also be great venues for finding potential mentors.
Make the Initial Contact
After identifying a potential mentor, learn as much as you can about him before you reach out. See if you have any common connections on LinkedIn. Although you may not know a potential mentor personally, an introduction from an acquaintance you have in common can help you establish a connection (and perhaps help you make a favorable first impression, too).
If you’re blindly reaching out to someone with whom you have no connections, go for a quick e-mail introduction that mentions common ground, specific interests, or discussion points and asks for a brief, fifteen-minute phone conversation or in-person meeting. Hopefully, this brief connection with your potential mentor will pique her curiosity and spark interest in talking further with you. Being specific about what you seek from a mentor will help her determine whether the two of you are a good mentor match. And be clear and succinct in your note: if you ramble in this e-mail, your potential mentor may assume that you ramble on the phone and in person, too.
If you don’t hear from your potential mentor soon, follow up but don’t hound her. If a check-in two to three weeks after your initial contact bears no fruit, you should assume that she isn’t interested in mentoring you right now. You can still try to maintain a relationship (even if it’s one way), however, by passing along articles or news that may interest her.
Make a Good Impression
Always keep in mind that your mentor is doing you a favor, so make sure that you are appreciative of the time she takes out of her schedule to assist you. I strongly recommend traveling to her location in order to maximize your time together. You want to make it as easy as possible for your mentor to help you!
During your first meeting or phone call, ask for advice on a single topic or problem. Don’t overwhelm your mentor with every question you ever wanted to know! Instead, use this opportunity to build rapport with a future mentor. The goal is to establish a relationship for the long-term—not have a comprehensive one-and-done meeting.
Don’t make assumptions about your mentor’s time or how she prefers to interact with you. Ask her how she would like to communicate and how often, and if you settle on a time limit (fifteen or thirty minutes, for example), be respectful of it—and your mentor’s time—and don’t go beyond it.
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.
― Benjamin Franklin
Your mentor’s advice may not always be easy to swallow, but keep in mind that he got where he is for a reason and probably knows what he’s talking about. Here are a few more helpful tips for working with a mentor:
- Set pride aside. Resolve to be both teachable and coachable.
- Cultivate the relationship. Ask questions and listen actively to the answers.
- Help your mentor help you. If you have a specific question or need, let your mentor know. It’s up to you to do the homework for your meetings and set the schedule.
- Return the favor. You’re bound to excel at some skill that can benefit your mentor. Mentorship is a two-way street, so try to help your mentor in any way that you can.
- Have fun! Although your ultimate goal is to learn, nothing says you can’t enjoy the time you spend with your mentor. Make your meetings a time you both look forward to.
Remember, you and your mentor both get out of this relationship what you put into it, so work hard to make it worth your time and hers. If nurtured carefully, the relationship you have with your mentor can be one that lasts throughout your career!
Check back for my next blog post on how to build the brand of YOU.