What To Look For In A Mentor And How To Reach Out To Them

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. — Benjamin Franklin

According to Inc. Magazine, a mentor is “a person with more experience in business, or simply in life, who can help you hone your abilities and advise you on navigating new challenges. A mentor can be a boon in a broad range of scenarios, whether he or she provides pointers on business strategy, bolsters your networking efforts or acts as a confidante when your work-life balance gets out of whack.”

Sounds awesome right? However, finding and landing the right mentor can be challenging. A few tips on how to do just that.

Determining what you hope to achieve

When it comes to determining who will be a good mentor, it’s best to start with the end in mind. What are you looking to gain from this person? How can he or she help you reach your goals? Understanding what you hope to achieve through the relationship will help you narrow down the candidates to approach.

Meanwhile, you also have to ask yourself, what can I offer my mentor that will make it worthwhile for us to meet? Remember, mentoring is a two-way street. In order to entice someone to mentor you (especially someone you don’t know), it’s best to understand what you can bring to the relationship.

So start with the end in mind before approaching anyone about establishing a mentoring relationship. Pinpointing what’s important to you will save both you and your potential mentors’ time.

Looking for a mentor

Many companies are establishing formal mentoring programs because they have shown to improve employee retention. Check with your employer’s HR department to see if your company offers such a program and to learn the application requirements. Recognize that an employer program is usually designed to help you meet specific goals within an organization. Depending on what you’re hoping to achieve from your mentoring relationship, your company program may not be in-line with your goals, and you’ll need to look elsewhere.

In the event your company doesn’t have a program or it doesn’t fit your needs, you should next review your own network including executives within your company, connections via LinkedIn, alumni from your alma mater or other industry sources or group affiliations for potential mentors. Another great source for potential mentors is networking events, conferences or trade shows.

Preparation is vital to get the most of a mentor relationship.

Making the initial contact

Once you have pinpointed a potential mentor; try to find out as much as you can about him or her before you reach out. See if you have any common connections on LinkedIn. Although you may not personally know a potential mentor, a positive introduction from someone you have in common can definitely be favorable.

If you’re reaching out to someone blind (meaning someone with whom you have no connections), go for a quick introduction along with any commonalities, specific interests or discussion points. Try to make a quick connection with your potential mentor to hopefully pique his or her curiosity and spark interest in meeting with you. Be specific on your request and what you’re looking for from a mentor. This will help your potential mentor determine whether he or she and you are a good mentor match. It’s critical that your note is clear and succinct; if your note rambles, your potential mentor will assume you’ll ramble when you meet in person.

Depending on potential mentor’s level (and how well you know him or her), you should ask for as little time as possible; begin with a 15-minute phone conversation. It’s critical to stick to that time period! That way, your mentor knows he or she can count on you to respect his or her time in the future.

If you don’t hear from your potential mentor, follow-up, but don’t hound him or her. Check-in two to three weeks after your initial contact, but after that, you need to assume he or she doesn’t have the time to meet you right now. Try to maintain a relationship (even if it’s one way) by sending notes or articles that may interest him or her.

Once you get the meeting

Always keep in mind that your mentor is doing you a favor, so make sure that you are appreciative of the time that your mentor takes out of his or her schedule to assist you. I strongly recommend traveling to him or her to make the most of the time you have together. You want to make it as easy as possible for your mentor to help you!

During the meeting or phone call, ask for your mentor’s advice on a single topic or problem. Don’t overwhelm him or her with every question you ever wanted to know! Instead, use this opportunity to build rapport with a future mentor. The goal is to establish a relationship for the long-term, not a one-and-done meeting.

During your initial meeting, ask your mentor how he or she would like to communicate and how often. Don’t make assumptions about your mentor’s time or how he or she likes to communicate.

Final thoughts

Furthermore, remember that the advice your mentor gives may not always be easy to swallow, but your mentor got to where he or she is for a reason. Set pride aside and allow yourself to be both teachable and coachable. Cultivate the relationship by asking questions and sincerely listening to the answers. Here are a few other helpful tips for working with a mentor:

  • Help your mentor help you. If you have a specific question or need, let your mentor know. It’s up to you to do the homework for your meetings and set the schedule. Many times, people don’t get into mentoring relationships because they don’t know where to start.
  • Have fun! Although your ultimate goal is to learn, there is nothing that says you can’t enjoy the time you spend with your mentor. Make your meetings a time that both of you look forward to.
  • Return the favor. There is bound to be some skill in which you excel that you can assist your mentor with. Mentorship is a two-way street, so try to help your mentor in any way that you can.

Remember, you get out of a mentoring program what you put in. Make it worth both your time and that of your mentor’s. If nurtured, the relationship with your mentor can be one that lasts throughout your career!

(This blog post was written by Valerie Grubb and originally appeared on Kelley BizBlog in two parts in October of 2012. With many graduates now starting their professional lives, we decided to re-purpose this valuable career information.)