We all need someone to guide us in life, from navigating the school system to entering the workforce, and it doesn’t stop there. As long as you continue to seek learning and development, you need not one but many mentors to grow and succeed. Mentors can help you open doors to untapped opportunities, empower you to explore unfamiliar pathways, and teach you to navigate unforeseen challenges. No matter what stage you are at, keep your eyes open for potential mentors and be sure to nurture and maintain those relationships. Here are some tips to get you started.
Start with The Why:
Before you begin your search for a mentor, establish clear goals of what you want to achieve. Whether it is a skill you are looking to learn, some advice you need on an immediate problem, or to have someone who has walked a similar path offer you their guidance, knowing the why can help you identify the right mentors and enable you to better frame your outreach to them.
Focus On Asking for Advice Not Finding a Mentor:
Like in many relationships, a mentorship agreement does not need formal acknowledgement in words. By expecting a “yes” or “no” answer to a “can you be my mentor” question can feel like a heavy commitment to anyone, like going on a first date and expecting to get married. When both parties feel that it is the right fit, it will be obvious. No words are required. The question then becomes a statement. By being casual about it and focusing on the act of asking for advice than officialising a relationship can help eliminate the fear of rejection—because a person is more likely to offer advice than to agree to be a mentor.
Do Not Ask a Stranger:
Here’s a rule of thumb in seeking mentorship. Just like you will not walk up to a stranger and ask them to be your friend, do not approach someone who does not know you and ask them to be your mentor. They will most likely ignore you. Look to your existing network. Find great mentors through the inspiring people you are already interacting with today. They need to be people who know how you operate and to whom you have demonstrated your potential. They must like, trust, and believe in you. When you have no credibility with them, why would they invest their time in you? As such, it is beneficial to maintain a network of professional connections to support your growth.
But this does not mean that you cannot get on the radar of strangers you admire. Start by following their work. Then show how you can support them, such as by sharing their updates, starting a LinkedIn discussion referencing their posts, or dropping a positive comment on their content. Be there; be seen. Do not expect an immediate response. A relationship needs to be nurtured and built over time. By supporting them in their backstage long enough, you will come into their limelight as soon as they discover your presence and your unique voice in their own way. Chasing or forcing a connection hardly works out.
Gauge the Chemistry:
Surely there are people you admire and have had success in the same ways you want it. But not everyone can be a right fit. Do not rush the relationship. Allow yourself time to connect on a personal level to gauge chemistry and compatibility. Keep interactions informal, conversations friendly, and the ask short and simple, so there is no pressure on anyone.
How to Form the Relationship:
For many, reaching out to someone the first few times can be nerve-racking and awkward. Framing your ask is a learned behaviour, which means anyone can do this. You just need to have a go.
Keep your cool and focus on building rapport. Ensure that your messages are personalised, showing the other party that you respect their time. Share what you admire about their work and what you would like to learn from them. Be specific about the help or advice you need. Outlined challenges are also easier to help with than general advice. Start small and ask open-ended questions. Ask for them to share their experience, and not to solve your problem. Do not ask for jobs or introductions right off the start. Finally, always ask first if they are willing to help and not jump into requesting a meeting. Follow these, and you are likely to get a positive response.
Demonstrate You Make a Great Mentee:
Show your potential mentor that you are great at what you do, and you are open, flexible, curious, eager to learn, resilient, and respectful. Demonstrate that you have a set vision and clear goals. Be proactive by asking for more responsibilities and volunteering for tasks. Show that you are willing to listen and put in the work. Be someone enjoyable to mentor.
Nurture the Mentor-Mentee Relationship:
Whether the relationship works out, be sure to show that you appreciate their time and guidance by saying thank you. If you have heard back from the other person a few times with great help and advice and you feel that there is chemistry going, feeling quite sure the other party thinks the same, it is time to take the bold step in asking if they are open to stay in touch and keep the conversations going. Find out if they would like to hear back from you on your progress. Their response will be an obvious indication of their acceptance of your unofficial mentorship request.
Any mentor would love to know the outcome of their investment in time and effort in a person. Nothing beats the satisfaction in guiding another to become the best of what they can be. As such, be sure to keep your mentor informed of your progress and share your achievements. They can be through simple text messages, emails, or scheduled check-ins with your mentor.
It’s a Two-Way Street:
Finally, do not forget that a relationship is a two-way street. Everyone is a teacher and a student. Your mentor will find it beneficial to be also learning something from you. As you give back to your mentor your progress, check in with them occasionally to find out if you can help in any way. It can be feedback, an external perspective, or a contact that they may find useful. Show that they can count on you for your support, like how they have always stood by you.
Now, are you ready to start building your personal advisory board?