I used to think that mentorship was a pipe dream.
Reserved for the companies and individuals of the best and biggest companies in the world, I was confused as to whether anyone would want to mentor me or what kind of approach I would take reaching out to the people I'd looked up to for so long.
Why would they be interested in anything I was up to?
Then, I realized that I didn't need someone famous or powerful to be my potential mentor—I just needed someone willing to guide me and help me succeed in the way I defined success.
And so, I did what anyone would do when they wanted something: I asked for it!
Perhaps you can relate to this in your professional life. Whether you have someone in mind to mentor you, but you don't want to blow your shoot, or you're building up the courage to start seeking a mentor for yourself somewhere in the near future, this guide is for you.
In this guide, we'll explore how you can find the right person and ask them in a practical way that maximizes the chances of them saying yes.
What is a Mentor?
To cover the basics, a mentor provides you with guidance and advice.
Mentors are not necessarily more experienced than you (although they usually are), and they don't have to be older than you, either.
In fact, mentors can be friends, family members, or colleagues--anyone whose opinions matter to you and who has something valuable to share with your career development.
A fundamental you must understand first is that you need to define what success means to you and then start finding a potential mentor who can help you fulfill that goal. It might be a fantastic idea to reach out to the COO of Google and ask them to mentor you.
How could that be a bad thing?
It could be because they don't necessarily have the skills, experience, or know-how to get you where you want to be. You need to find a relevant, experienced, and capable person who can help you overcome your problems or move along in your journey.
This means choosing a mentor whose values align with yours; otherwise, there will be no point in seeking out this type of relationship with them!
Understand why you want to be mentored
Before you reach out to someone, it's important to be clear about your mentoring goals and motivations.
Why do you want a mentor?
Do you want to learn a new skill, or are there specific challenges at work that have been keeping you up at night?
Are there gaps in your knowledge of an industry or technology that could use some filling in? Are you looking for your potential mentor's connections to be ones you can connect with?
In any case, think about what motivates your request for mentorship and make sure it aligns with their interests and schedule before reaching out.
How to ask someone to be your mentor
Okay, with all that out of the way, let's get into the real meat of this guide. To make things even simpler, I'm going to break this down into some very actionable steps of how to ask someone to be your potential mentor and how to present your mentoring request.
Step #1 - Find the mentor that's right for you
Your first instinct may be to look at your boss or someone else who has power over your career. Perhaps you want to prove you're capable or are interested in moving up, and while that shouldn't be off the cards, this isn't always the best route.
Instead, you want someone who will be invested in helping you succeed as much as they are themselves. This means you need to start thinking about other people in your field who inspire and motivate you the most.
Whether you have ideas or you're going to start looking around, think about the goals you're trying to achieve and the career trajectory you want, and then seek people who are already where you want to be and have undertaken that journey themselves.
People who are in their professional careers are highly successful in what you're looking for and whose core values align with your own.
For example, let's say you want to completely pivot your career from a designer to a software engineer; you'll need to look for people who are either software engineers now or have pivoted into a software engineer role at some point during their career.
They will know what to do to succeed, what pitfalls and obstacles are coming your way, and understand how to navigate the process, which is precisely what you're looking for.
Step #2 - Make sure your mentor is a good fit for you
When you're looking for a mentor, it's important to match your needs to the mentor's own experience and interests.
For example, if you're interested in starting a business and need help with marketing and branding, it won't do much good to find yourself mentored by someone who has never run their own company.
I repeat this because it's so important, and it's so easy to fall into the trap of not doing it. You may even have had some prestigious opportunities come up for people who could have successful mentoring relationships.
Perhaps some people have actually offered to mentor you themselves. Maybe you have a mentorship program at work ready and set up for you to be a part of.
However, if these people don't fit your goals, your values, morals, or experiences, they're not going to be a good fit for you - no matter how long their LinkedIn tagline is.
But, on top of this point, make sure your chosen mentor is willing to invest time in you - not just because they feel obligated or because it'll look good on their resume (although those reasons can be valid).
They should want to learn from you as much as vice versa, or at least have the desire to solidify their own understanding of their journey.
Finally, make sure your mentor is someone who has enough free time - and interest - to guide you through the process of growing professionally while still being there when needed most.
Step #3 - Be clear about what you want from the mentor-mentee relationship
You won't get what you want if you don't know what that is. Before approaching someone for mentorship, think about what kind of relationship would be most beneficial to your career and personal development.
For example: Do you want advice on a specific project? Are there skills or knowledge bases that would make a big difference in how effective your team can be?
Is there an opportunity for advancement at work that requires additional training or education outside of the office (and will this person help cover those costs)?
Or do they have experience working with other individuals who are similar to yourself--perhaps another woman or person of color--and could share some tips on navigating being part of underrepresented groups within organizations across industries?
Once again: Be clear about what exactly it is that interests/excites/motivates/challenges YOU!
Step #4 - Reach out to them and have an initial meeting
So, you've identified someone who could be a good career coach for you. Now it's time to contact them and have an initial conversation.
First, make sure you have the right contact information.
If they're someone who's known in the industry, then chances are high that they'll have a public-facing email address or social media account where they can be reached easily.
If not, then see if there are other ways of getting in touch with them (maybe through mutual friends).
Next, find out about their availability.
Are they busy during certain times of the day? Do they travel frequently for work or leisure? Is there anything else happening in their life right now (such as having kids) that would affect how much time they could dedicate to helping others learn new skills over email/texting/phone calls etc.?
It's important that both parties feel comfortable enough with each other so neither feels taken advantage of by agreeing upon one specific schedule while another might actually suit better!
Step #5 - Set the standard
As you're reaching out with your mentorship request, it's important to set the standard of what the mentoring relationship will be like both for you and the mentor. You need to respect each other's time and make sure you're both on the same page when it comes to how things are going to unfound.
Here are a few ways to do this;
Define the essentials, like your level of commitment, what sort of communication you expect, set goals, and allow space for questions.
Tell them what you're looking for. What do you need from your potential mentors? Do you want help with a specific project or issue? Are there skills that need sharpening? Are there aspects of your job that could use improvement but aren't necessarily part of your job description (such as time management)? Are you interested in meeting your potential mentor's connections?
Be honest about what kind of professional relationship works best for both parties involved--you might have different expectations from someone who's already in their field versus someone working out how they want to get into it!
Step #6 - Start with small tasks and build from there.
You may think you want a professional mentor who will help you with something big and important.
A change of career. A promotion. Launching a new product. Moving into a new market. Enhancing your leadership skills or professional development that will end up serving you for life.
Okay, okay, these are big goals, and they're great to have, but when starting out with a mentor, it's important to take your time, start small, and then build things up.
A good mentor will always teach you to have patience.
The best way to get someone's attention is by asking for help on a small task they could easily do themselves but haven't had time or energy to complete yet.
One example of this could be asking your mentor if they would be willing to write an endorsement for your resume or LinkedIn profile.
This will show them that you are serious about getting ahead in your career path and show them that their time would not be wasted if they took on this project with you.
Another good idea is to ask them if there are any books or courses related to the field of work where they have expertise that might benefit someone like yourself (i.e., "I'm interested in learning more about X because Y").
Step #7 - Check in regularly and be honest
Once you've found a mentor, keeping in touch regularly is important.
After the first meeting, meeting with your mentor once or twice per month is ideal, but even if this isn't possible due to time constraints or other commitments, try to ensure you check in with them once every few weeks.
Be honest about how things are going for you - and don't be afraid to ask for feedback and advice! Sure, you and your mentor may be exceptionally busy, but always find time to follow up while still respecting the other person's time.
The perfect mentor should be able to give valuable insight into how they overcame similar obstacles in their own career (if they did) or what might have worked differently for them (if not). It's this level of self-awareness that will help you thrive.
Discussing your mentoring goals with your prospective mentor can help keep both the mentor and you motivated as well; having someone else involved will make it easier for both parties to stay on track toward reaching those goals.
If necessary, don't hesitate to ask for help along the way!
Mentorships can be a great way to advance along your career path, but only if you find the right mentor and approach them correctly.
There are many different types of mentors. Some are people who have been in your shoes before, who have done what you're trying to do now, and may even have taken on similar roles during their time at the company or organization.
Others might be industry experts or thought leaders who have established themselves as authorities on a particular topic or skill set (for example, social media marketing).
Regardless of their background or expertise level, there are some universal truths about how best to ask someone if they'd like to be your mentor:
Ultimately, however, it's important to remember that a mentor will help you reach your goals.
If you feel like a mentorship is right for you, then go ahead and reach out! But don't be discouraged if people turn down your mentoring request or don't answer at all - it happens all the time.
You just need to keep looking and reaching out to multiple mentors until someone agrees to work with you continuously. And this is how you'll find the best mentors and a great mentor for you.
Ready to find a willing mentor from the word "go?"
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