Finding a Mentor: Lessons on Snagging One
Finding a mentor is like making a new friend
You don’t need to go out in the world to seek them—it should come naturally.
Finding a mentor is not as simple as asking. This can happen as simply as chatting with your old boss, striking up a conversation with a co-worker, or getting back in touch with a professor you really loved. And guess what? They don’t even need to work in your field. All it takes from you is a simple question: Whom do I most admire and could learn from? Here are some lessons and tips that will help you navigate the world of mentorship.
Mentors can offer career advice, be a sounding board, support your growth, pull you up when things look down, and inspire you to reach further. But they are not your friends or parents. Treat these valuable relationships respectfully and professionally. Don’t waste their time.
Lesson no. 1: Seek and ye shall not find
“If someone has to ask the question, (will you be my mentor) the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In
You’re not online dating here. Reaching out to people you may not know well is not going to help you in this scenario. The mentorship should come naturally, whether you approach them or they approach you. Perhaps it’s an old professor you kept in touch with, you mom’s friend whose career you truly admire, or even a co-worker that you’re impressed by.
Lesson no. 2: Don’t ask, create a relationship
Successful people are busy. Very busy. If you ask them “Will you be my mentor?” they will most likely say no or avoid answering. That sounds like an obligation and more work. Nurture a relationship instead. Ask a thoughtful question here and there, ask advice occasionally and get to the point fast. Respect their time. People do want to help young people, but don’t be a nuisance. Send them a small thank you card when they give you their time and knowledge.
Lesson no. 3: Let them know how the advice or information they gave turned out
“Just wanted to let you know I did such and such, and I got that promotion.” or “I took that risk in offering my idea and they accepted it.” “I turned my thinking upside down after we spoke and am seeing my work change for the better.”
The reward a mentor has is seeing your success. That is what’s gratifying to them.
Lesson no. 4: It’s OK to find someone outside your field
Although it may seem easier to build a relationship with someone in your field, if you already have a great relationship with someone whom you truly admire and would take advice from—run with it. Perhaps it’s a wonderful teacher and you’re in business: what lessons can you learn from their leadership skills?
At the end of the day, we all want to be happy and successful in our careers, and people who have had more experience (in our roles or not) can give us tips that are universal, such as: how to deal with a difficult boss, how to get a raise, or how to set yourself up for a leadership position.
Lesson no. 5: Be someone a mentor would want to mentor
As much as your mentor would like to help you just out of the goodness of their heart, you need to show that you are a person of promise and action. Demonstrate that you are taking initiative at your job or school: maybe that looks like organizing an after-hours sports club, volunteering, and being apart of career-related clubs.
Drop them a short (keyword: short) note or email to let them know how you are doing and how they helped you get there. Offer to pay for coffee or drinks every time you get together, and be sure to stay abreast of what the mentor is doing in his or her careers.
Lesson no. 4: The more mentors, the merrier
It might be hard to find just one person to be your all-around mentor, so it’s completely OK to have more than one for different things. Perhaps you want to start a business down the line and need financial advice from one person and marketing advice from another. Or maybe you’d like to have an academic mentor, a career mentor, and even a life mentor. At the end of the day, all that matters is that this person is someone you look up to, admire, and of course, someone that respects you, too.