The first rule to finding a great mentor: you do not talk about finding a great mentor.
We often think of finding a mentor like finding a job. You search online for a couple hours, make the ask and “apply” to be someone’s mentee, and wait to hear if you’ll be accepted.
If you go about mentorship this way, you will never, ever find a mentor. Maybe this is why so many people don’t have one — the majority of people are looking at it the wrong way.
A mentorship doesn’t happen after one email exchange. It doesn’t happen after meeting for coffee. And it doesn’t even happen after working together for a couple weeks. It’s a long process that takes time and dedication, and you need to make it a priority.
Having a great mentor is invaluable. Who doesn’t want advice from someone who has years of experience in your dream job? And, not only can you learn from your mentor’s mistakes, you can also identify your weaknesses, learn about the skills you need to develop to succeed, flesh out half-baked ideas, and more.
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And, it’s even more important to have a mentor as you’re building out your roadmap to your passion. You may have the early inklings of switching careers to follow your true love or you may already be establishing yourself in your field outside of work — either way, following your passion can be a scary time (exciting, but scary). Sometimes it’s helpful just to hear what someone’s day-to-day job is like, or the challenges someone else is facing (you’re not alone!).
Here’s How to Land the Perfect Mentor
Step 1: Establish goals
Why do you want a mentor? That may seem like an obvious question, but you need to be able to answer it in definitive, clear terms before you start searching for one. Write out a list of things you would like to learn or achieve with a mentor.
Here are some possible goals:
- Learn about the industry/certain jobs
- Learn about the skills needed
- Identify your weaknesses
- Improve your strengths/talents
- Improve your interviewing/networking skills
- Make new connections in the field
You don’t want to waste anyone’s time by starting a mentor relationships with no idea what you want to get out of it. And, if you can clearly outline what you want to learn, your mentor will have a much easier time helping you in the way you need.
Step 2: Identify 2-3 possible mentors
Once you’ve established your goals, you need to identify what you’re looking for. What role should this person have? What kind of company should he or she work at? Do you want him or her to live in your city?
Then, let the search begin. Let people in your network know that you’re looking for a mentor. Attend networking events and consider groups or organizations you’re a member of. Research companies you are interested in and find a potential mentor who works there. Visit forums or groups for your industry and observe for a couple days to see who the prominent people are. Do as much research as possible and narrow down your mentor list to a couple people.
Step 3: Email them [here’s what to say]
Do not email a potential mentor asking him or her to be a mentor. I was serious about the first rule to finding a great mentor.
A valuable mentorship should come organically. It starts with building a relationship and seeing if you both click. Then, you get to know each other and communicate more frequently, and next thing you know, it just kind of happens. One day you’ll be talking about careers in a natural conversation and you’ll organically ask for advice. And your now-mentor will share his or her knowledge with you. And then it will just go from there.
So, you should be focused on building a relationship with your potential mentor the first time you communicate with him or her.
Here’s an example of what to say:
Subject line: Can I ask you about your job?
I hope you’re having a great summer!
If you have 30 minutes, could I take you to coffee next week? I’m thinking of making a career move to specialize in X and would love to learn more about what you do.
Step 4: Have your first meeting
I always meet someone for the first time for coffee. It can be as short or as long as you need, it’s cheap, and it’s casual. There are no expectations, like there are when you take someone out for lunch.
Arrange a meeting at a coffee shop and arrive early. Make sure you come prepared with a list of mental questions. You need to lead this first meeting. I’ve had many coffee meetings where I start leading the conversation and ask one or two questions, then the potential mentor gets on a roll and carries the rest of the conversation. I’ve also been in meetings where the other person is very shy or quiet, and doesn’t say much at all. You need to be prepared for both.
Again, focus on building a relationship and finding out if you both click. It’s almost like dating — you should naturally get along with this person. If you are racking your brain for things to talk about, it’s not a good fit.
Step 5: Follow up
Send a thank you email a couple hours after your meeting and make it matter. Don’t just send the fluffy “thank you for your time” email — add some value and help your potential mentor in some way.
For example, if you talked about her company and how she wants to start a blog, you could send her 10 ideas for possible blog topics or forward an article you found that would be helpful. You need to give before you can get.
Follow this pattern for a couple weeks, but don’t over-do it (you don’t want to be annoying). Send one or two emails in the span of two weeks with ideas, helpful articles, or introductions. Your goal here is to stay top-of-mind and keep the conversation going. Then, after a couple weeks, ask to meet again.
You shouldn’t really have to force the rest. You will know right away if someone would be a good mentor and if that person is interested in continuing to meet with you. Don’t give up if you have a couple coffee meetings and nothing happens afterwards. The more networking you do, the better you will get and the easier it will be to identify that perfect mentor.
Have you had a professional mentor? How did it work out? Share your experience in the comments below. If you have never had a mentor, what is one thing you would want to learn from them?