A great professional mentor can bolster your career and provide invaluable professional development. But how do you even go about finding a mentor? Where should you look, what do you say?
Let’s walk through the basics for finding a mentor –
Establish Your Mentorship Goals
Be clear from the start what goals you want to achieve through mentorship.
Do you want help asking for a raise or a promotion?
Do you need advice on how to build your brand or write a business plan?
Are you looking for someone with a large network in a certain industry to be a connector?
Or are you looking for a more general sounding board for your professional development?
Think of what your short and long-term goals are and whether it can be achieved with one or multiple mentors.
Define Your Ideal Mentor Profile
With your goals in mind, write down any relevant background and experience you’d like your ideal mentor to have. Do they have to be from the same industry? Do they even have to be from the same profession? Keep an open mind as to what kind of person you could benefit from learning from. There are a lot of successful people out there who have very impressive skillsets you could leverage.
Where to Look for a Mentor
Lots of large corporations have formal mentorship programs that you can take advantage of. But assuming your company doesn’t offer such programs, or you’d like a mentor from outside of work, here are a few places to start looking –
- LinkedIn – Start by doing advanced searches on LinkedIn for the type of person who would suit your ideal mentor profile. Are there any close connections whom you could ask for an introduction?
- Professional Associations – Associations are a great place to network and seek out a mentor. Offering to volunteer is a great way to get more involved and be a visible contributor while also looking for a mentor.
- Formal Mentorship Programs – There are organizations out there that specialize in formal mentorship programs, usually for a fee. Universities, associations, community groups – search online for programs in your local area.
- Speaker Events – Networking in general is a great way to meet potential mentors, but keep an eye on the speaker lineups for events as well. Keep in mind high profile speakers are constantly asked to be mentors, so your approach will have to be on point to gain any traction. But more on that later.
For some more seasoned professionals out there, don’t neglect the value of having a mentor who is younger than you. Depending on your goals, it might be worthwhile taking on a reverse mentorship for a while. For example, if your goal is to learn how to communicate with and manage different generations, then seeking out a young manager as a mentor makes sense.
How to Approach a Potential Mentor
Firstly, do not ask someone “will you be my mentor?” straight off the bat. It is awkward and shows a lack of understanding of how relationships are formed.
Top professionals value their time and although they’d love to help everyone, they simply can’t; so you’re going to have to make a pretty compelling case. Here are a few tips for approaching potential mentors –
- Ask for their advice/help in one specific area to start. Don’t overwhelm them with your life story, simply open the door with a targeted issue that you would like to pick their brain about.
- Be impressive. Similar to job hunting, you’re going to need to sell yourself with a mentorship elevator pitch – What makes you special? Why should they invest time in helping your career? Whether it’s a shared passion, an interesting side project or a remarkable achievement, try to find a hook that makes them think “this person has great potential”.
- Show personality. People want to help people they like. Show your enthusiasm and project positive confidence to attract the interest of top mentors. They’ll be more willing to help if they already enjoy spending time with you.
Setting Mentorship Boundaries
Many mentorship relationships evolve organically from building these relationships and never need to be labelled or structured. However, depending on your goals and on the relationship, it can be more beneficial to have set boundaries and schedules. Make sure you both agree on the level of commitment – how often and for how long you need to meet, and in what forms. Does it have to be an in-person meeting or will a call every two months suffice? Be respectful of the boundaries set and always have a plan for what you want to achieve with each meeting.
And most importantly, understand what your mentor wants to get out of the relationship. Do they have any goals in mind? As a mentee, you also have a lot to offer. Take the time to listen to your mentor, ask questions and be engaged in their progress as well.