You have answered many questions about being a mentor—but as a young person in my first job, I wonder how I can find a mentor. How do I go about it? How do I know if someone is the right mentor for me? Once I find someone willing to mentor me, how do I go about being a good mentee?
Seeking a Mentor
Dear Seeking a Mentor,
Everyone I know who has a mentor or has had multiple mentors shares a few traits. They are ambitious and goal oriented, are curious about others, can be gregarious, and are comfortable asking for help. The fact that you are asking these questions now is a sign that you are on the right track.
Before you go searching for the right mentor, you will want to be clear on your career goals. They may change, and that’s okay. But in order to enlist support, you need to be able to articulate what you want support for. Whatever your goal is will inform the steps you need to take to reach it—and it is those steps that others can potentially help you with.
Maybe, say, you need to research the kinds of jobs that interest you. Reach out to people who have those jobs. Ask them to share what they like about the job, what they don’t like, and what they wish they had known when they were just starting out. This takes guts, and some people will turn you down. But you may be surprised at how many are eager to share their wisdom with you.
Maybe you need to build a specific skill set. You can ask around to see who is respected and admired for having that skill set. Then you can approach those folks to ask them how they got so good at those specific skills.
Almost everyone loves to be asked for advice—and they really love talking about themselves. Almost everyone will be delighted to spend some time with you answering smart questions. Listen carefully to what they say to ascertain what is important and interesting to them, then shape your questions along those lines.
Make sure you thank anyone who takes the time to speak with you. Take note of what they are interested in and stay in touch by sharing news tidbits, blogs, books, or websites that you think will appeal to them.
As you have conversations with more experienced people, you will eventually find one or two with whom you feel a genuine connection. These are the people you can ask to mentor you. Not everyone you ask will bite—it might not be a good time for them, or they may feel they are mentoring too many people. They will either decline or leave the door open for you to ask again in the future. Eventually, though, someone will be flattered and excited by the idea.
Once you do find someone who is willing to mentor you, you can co-create how you want the relationship to look. Perhaps your new mentor has had successful mentoring relationships and has strong ideas about what works well. Perhaps not. You can agree to start with a design and then tweak as you go. The key is for you to take 100% responsibility for driving the relationship, and for the two of you to have clear agreement. Pay special attention to these areas:
- Agree on a time frame: It is good to commit to a finite period of time. You may both agree to continue once you reach the end of it, but it gives you both an out if one is needed.
- Set specific goals for the time period: They may change, but having goals will give both of you a sense of the impact the mentoring is having.
- Have regular meetings: Start with some kind of regular framework for getting together, either over the phone or in person. You won’t both be able to make every meeting; that’s fine. But if you don’t have a schedule, months can whiz by with no input.
- Review progress: Every month or so, check in on how the partnership is going. Are you getting value? Is the mentor feeling good about everything? I was once completely ghosted by a mentee, and to this day have no idea why. It didn’t feel great.
- Make clear requests: It is okay to ask for what you want, and it is okay for your mentor to say no. They may offer something else or even something better that is easy for them. Be clear, flexible, and patient.
- Prepare: Be ready for your meetings by outlining actions you have taken, results you have produced, obstacles you need help to overcome, and questions that have cropped up since your last meeting. The more you prepare, the more value you will get out of whatever time you are granted. As a bonus, your mentor will feel that you are taking their time seriously and that their investment in you is wise.
- Express gratitude: Find ways to say thank you. A handwritten note or fun card is never bad, antiquated as that idea might be. A small gift of chocolate, a book, gourmet tea, flowers, or bourbon—depending on the tastes of your mentor—is always welcome. Gifts don’t need to be fancy or expensive, they just need to show that you are paying attention and that you have given it a little thought. You might also find ways to acknowledge your mentor to others when appropriate. If you do something your mentor suggested or helped you with and it gets attention from others, you can always give credit where credit is due.
Best of luck to you.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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