A lot of career and business guides will advise you to find a mentor…but they won’t tell you how to find that mentor. Until there’s a website to connect would-be mentors with mentees like a dating site (note to self: business idea!), you’ll have to go it alone. So here are a few tips to finding a mentor of your own.
Today’s question comes from Amy S. who asks, “I wish I had a mentor. I could use a little personal guidance sometimes, you know? How do I find one? (Without going up to random strangers on the street!)”
You don’t have to go up to random strangers on the street to find your mentor, but you do need to branch out a bit if there’s no one you already know that you might want as a mentor. But let’s take a step back first.
When you’re looking for your mentor, don’t actually use the word “mentor.” Odd, I know, but bear with me. The reason is that the word “mentor” connotes a lot of obligation and commitment. If you’ve found someone who’s successful in his or her field, he or she doesn’t have that kind of time.
The truth is that you don’t start out by choosing a mentor. It’s only a while later, when you reflect back on the influence that someone has had on you or your career, that you can really say that he or she has been a mentor. What you’re really looking for right now is someone you can ask a few questions to.
What do you want to learn from your mentor? Start out by making a list of the questions you’d ask him or her. And be specific: “What should I do?” isn’t a great question but “What should I do about [insert your specific scenario here]?” is. Also, be sure these aren’t questions that you could just find out on your own. “What’s a ‘kickoff?’” isn’t a question for a mentor; there are plenty of sites you could consult (including, oh, Google).
Next, identify the kinds of traits you’d like your mentor to have. How many years in the industry would he/she have? What kind of experience would he/she have? Would he/she have worked in a specific niche?
Now, start doing a little research to find someone that fits those qualifications. Ask other people you know in the industry if they know of anyone. Do a little poking around on LinkedIn. Join a LinkedIn group and as if anyone in the group has those qualifications.
When you’ve found a person or two you’d like to talk with, send them an email. Let them know that you’re just starting out in the field and you were wondering if you could ask them just a few questions. You can offer to take them out for coffee or lunch but, if they’re too busy, you’d love to just shoot over a few questions via email.
Now, some people won’t answer you. That’s life. Some people are busy, some people will lose your email in their inbox and some people just won’t have time for it. Don’t get discouraged, though.
When you find someone who is willing to answer your questions, truly keep them to just a few—absolutely no more than two or three. This person is already doing you a huge favor by taking time our of their day, don’t make them regret it by inundating them with ten questions.
And if they don’t get back to you right away, send your questions to someone else. People are busy. Many people want to help, in theory, but run out of time in real life. Don’t take it personally and don’t hold it against them.
Once you get your answers, send a thank you immediately. (This is also a person to add to your holiday card list.) If you have a few follow-up questions, you can ask those, but avoid sending a new bunch of questions. Give it a few months (I know, I said months) before you send any fresh questions—several weeks at the very earliest. Again, he or she is doing you a favor—don’t take advantage of that favor.
Building a long term relationship (if that’s what this will become) takes a while. Be patient—and be grateful for any and all help that you get.
Your turn! Do you have a mentor? Or what are you looking for in one? Let us know in the comments below!