Identifying a mentor
Unless you are enrolled in a company-based mentoring program, the task of identifying a mentor falls on your shoulders. Though the task might seem difficult, chances are you already have the skills you need to identify possible mentors, you just need to apply them appropriately.
Here are some of the key steps in identifying folks who might mentor you:
• Understand the characteristics of an effective mentor.
• Prioritize the characteristics that are particularly important to you.
• Ask others who they might recommend as a mentor and ask them to introduce you to them.
• Consider seeking multiple mentors.
Chances are you know people in the industry who are mentor potentials – meet with them and assess for yourself whether there might be good fit in terms of personality and qualifications. Find out what you can about their background, experience, professional interests and activities, and communication style.
Multiple mentors may provide you with a broader range of guidance and perspectives than you might get from a single mentor. Also, if you have multiple mentors there is less demand on each of them. Of course, managing multiple mentoring relationships can be more demanding on you and you may have to weigh conflicting advice or guidance. Another risk of being in multiple mentoring relationships is that your energy is less focused and, as a result, you may not be able to develop as deep a personal connection with any of them.
Asking someone to be your mentor
Once you’ve identified someone as a potential mentor, you’ll have to approach them and ask them.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you do:
• Figure out the best way to contact them. If you know them personally, you can make a brief call or send a brief e-mail asking them to meet you or chat with you to discuss mentorships. If they agree to a meeting (in person is recommended, though sometimes that’s not possible) then be sure you prepare for it!
• Craft a compelling pitch.
• Tell the potential mentor what your goal(s) for the mentorship are.
• Explain to the person why you’d like them (in particular) to be your mentor.
• Explore their willingness and interest in becoming a mentor. If they seem reluctant to be a mentor, you might make them more comfortable with the idea by explaining the benefits they might get out of it. (Read about the benefits of being a mentor.)
• Demonstrate your commitment to mentoring and show them that you’d be a worthy mentee – keep in mind that mentors tend to pick mentees not based on the mentee’s need but on the potential the mentor sees in the mentee.
SHOULD YOU APPROACH SOMEONE YOU DON'T HAVE A PERSONAL CONNECTION TO?
Though we don’t want to tell you not to ask someone you have no personal connection with to be your mentor, in general, it’s not a good idea.
Assuming you’ve figured out how to actually reach someone you don’t know, you’d have to be exceptionally convincing – and quite lucky.
More importantly, if you don’t actually know the person personally (or through a personal or professional connection), you really cannot accurately assess whether you’d have a good personal fit with them, which is crucial to the success of the relationship. Another thing to consider is whether approaching the person and being turned down might impact any possible future relationship you may have with them.
There are lots of qualified potential mentors. Indeed, if you have your sights set on a particular professional being your mentor, perhaps you should make getting to know them a long-term goal and set as a near-term goal the task of finding a mentor who can help you sharpen your networking skills.