Everyone knows how important it is to have a mentor.
A professional mentor can guide you through your career, helping you improve your skills and yourself and increasing your chances of achieving your career goals. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a mentor.
What Is A Mentor?
A mentor is someone you build a professional relationship with in order to get outside feedback and advice on your career. They are often an older, more experienced, or more accomplished professional in the field you are pursuing a career in.
Professional mentors act as sounding boards, offering advice and helping you sort through problems as you move through your career.
Who Can Be A Mentor?
Technically, anyone can be a mentor, but not everyone can be a good professional mentor for you. A mentor should be someone you look up to and respect and who has similar values and priorities to yours. Ideally, they are also someone who works in the same field or industry as you.
Start with your own network when you’re looking for a professional mentor – friends, family, previous coworkers, people you’re in professional organizations with, and more are all good people to consider. Just make sure that they’re someone you trust and can be honest with.
Starting A Mentorship
A mentor-mentee relationship isn’t something you should rush into. If you pick one person and cold-email them asking them to mentor you, you’re not likely to get a good response or build a good professional relationship.
Make sure you know what you are looking for in mentorship and in your career. What are your goals? What do you want your career path to look like? What difficulties do you think you’ll experience in the workplace? Knowing yourself and your goals will be helpful in finding a mentor.
Pick out a few potential mentors and ask to meet with them to talk about something specific, like a problem you’re encountering or what led them to their current position. Letting them know what you want to discuss can help them prepare better for your meeting. Try taking time in your message to let them know why you’re asking them – because you look up to them, respect their opinion, or want to see something from their point of view. You’re more likely to get a positive response this way.
If someone does decline, don’t take it personally. They’re busy professionals too, and might simply not have the time. Take cues from their response on whether or not to follow up again in the future. If they say they can’t meet with you and that’s all, thank them for their time anyway and move on. If they say they can’t meet, but mention meeting in the future, try reaching out again in a few weeks or months.
You can have as many initial conversations like this as it takes to find someone who you feel comfortable with and who you think would be a good mentor for you.
Building A Relationship
Start building your relationship with your prospective professional mentor by having multiple casual conversations like your initial meeting. Be respectful of their time and don’t ask to meet too often. You’re both professionals with busy work and personal lives.
Go into all these conversations with something to talk about – whether it’s something you have going on at work, some career developments, or industry news. These conversations should be a two-way street, though, where you should be listening and sharing as much as they are. You can talk about personal life stuff too if you and the person you’re talking to are comfortable with that.
Once you have built up a decent relationship with your prospective mentor, you can formally ask them if they could mentor you. Say that you’ve appreciated their conversation and advice so far, and explain what you hope a future mentor-mentee relationship would look like.
They are more likely to respond positively if they’ve already met and talked with you a few times. If they do say yes, you have a mentor you can continue building a professional relationship with and learning from. Remember that they are doing this as a favor to you, so you still need to be respectful of their time.
If they say that, no, they won’t or can’t mentor you for whatever reason, be respectful of that too. Being a mentor is a big responsibility and time commitment and not everyone is able to take on that kind of commitment. Thank them for their time, and you can even ask if they are ok with having more casual chats like this in the future. You can always learn from someone who isn’t your mentor.
It might take a long time or a few false starts to find a professional mentor, but don’t be discouraged. It’s worth the time and effort you will put into finding a mentor, and your career will benefit from it. Just remember to always be respectful to and appreciative of the people who help you.