Finding A High Quality Professional Mentor

Few things can be as intimidating as finding someone to mentor you. The right mentor can make your career much more straightforward.

4 Easy Steps to Find a Mentor

The most successful people in every field have something in common: a mentor. Finding someone to mentor you isn’t rocket science, but it’s not easy, either. Or everyone would do it.

You’ve heard about mentors. That dude in your high school chemistry AP class who got straight “As” and ended up going to MIT was rumored to have Bill Gates as his mentor. Bill freakin’ Gates! How does that even happen, you think to yourself, struggling to loosen the lug nut without stripping it while on training maneuvers with your unit in Hohenfels.

There are two things to understand about mentors and mentorship right off the bat. First of all, it’s not easy to find a good mentor, or everyone would have one. Second, it’s not rocket science either, because as you remember that dude in your chemistry class had no personality, and the other kids would constantly roast him for being a loser. If only Bill Gates knew — and now he’s off at MIT, being a loser. Where’s the justice!

Forget about justice. Instead, follow these simple rules to find your own mentor. Chances are it won’t be Bill Gates. But if you’re clear-eyed about your own career goals, and patient, and actually care about building a lifelong relationship with a person in your field — you can find someone who will help your professional path avoid pitfalls and help you achieve greatness.

Step #1: Identify Someone You Want to Be

This might seem intuitive, but without this crucial first step you’re not going to get anywhere finding a mentor. Just gunning for someone who’s rich or famous is a waste of your time. If your dad’s LeBron James’s cook and you want LeBron James to mentor you but you want to go into mechanical engineering, I have bad news for you: James will make a poor professional mentor. If you like James personally based on what you’ve seen of him, and are a great basketball player or a budding entrepreneur — these are two things James does well — sure, use that connection your father has to approach James.

Mentorship is all about shortcutting costly, time-consuming, and frustrating experiences by talking with someone who knows what they’re doing. To do that requires trust and a relationship. The easiest way to waste your time (and the time of others) is approaching people who are wealthy, accomplished, or influential, but not doing something you want to do yourself.

The ultimate mentor? President of the U.S.A. Hands down.

Step #2: Cultivate a Relationship Over Years

You’ve found someone in your chosen field — whatever that is. It could be gunsmithing, and you’ve found one of the most reputable gunsmiths in your state. It could be finance, or journalism. Whatever the case may be, you’ve identified that person. What next?

What’s next is to approach them via social media or email with a direct ask related to something you’re hoping to do, the earlier the better. If you want to get into finance but your parents are high school history teachers, just be upfront with your potential mentor — you’re passionate about finance, you were in your high school’s investment club, you’re applying to colleges, does the person (potential mentor) have any advice.

If the person gets back to you with advice, and encourages you to stay in touch with them — do so! When you’re faced with some sort of choice, send them an email or a note on LinkedIn. Ask for input and wisdom. Let the relationship grow from there. 

SEND A FOLLOW UP EMAIL. After your initial conversation, send a quick thank you note. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but simply thank them for their time, ask to stay in touch, and discuss any action items or follow ups you may have discussed.

Mentorship takes many forms, and is a great source of strength and support.

At some point, it’s possible that you’ll find yourself in the same city as this person; offer to hang out, a lunch or a coffee is usually the most convenient forum. If — and this is a big if — you hit it off in person, that might unlock a new level to the mentorship, accessed by the increased trust of a face-to-face meeting.

Many people (especially successful people who are well along in their careers) are not just alright with helping, they feel an obligation to the people who mentored them, and are actively looking for opportunities to pay it forward.

Step #3: Ask Nothing of the Mentor

A mentor is not there to give you a job. A mentor is not there to invest in your business. A mentor is not there to get you into fancy meetings or gatherings. All of these things may end up happening, but only if offered.

Ask nothing of the person you hope to make into your mentor. At least, not at first.

Over the months and years, as you develop a rapport with your mentor — and they with you — they’ll be able to gauge your reliability, your dedication to who you said you wanted to be when you first reached out to them. They’ll see you accomplish things, and take their wise advice. At some point, they’ll offer to help you more tangibly than with advice. You’ll be telling them about a project, or what you’ve done in a new position, and they’ll ask if it’s ok to introduce you to some people — or they’ll mention a position opening in their business or department.

Do not ask your mentor “anything.”

One exception to this is recommendation letters. Mentors are great for recommendation letters — to college, for advanced degrees, for foundations or prizes — fire away on asking for recommendation letters, that’s fair game.

Step #4: You Have a Mentor, No Need to Ask Them if They Want to Mentor You

It’s a “thing” in business to have mentors, and if that’s the specific space you’re in, and you’re looking for a mentor, you can ask a person after a reasonable amount of time if they’d be willing to mentor you. That ask comes with obligations on your side, and on theirs.

But in most professions, a mentor is just someone who responds to your emails and is genial and helpful — who gives you wisdom and guidance. If you’ve been corresponding with someone for years, and they’ve helped you out with a number of things, and made introductions, and written recommendations, and given you work beyond advice and friendship — buddy, you got yourself a mentor. You can refer to them as such, and they will likely feel honored to know that’s how they’re seen by others. It’s a badge of distinction for which all decent people of integrity strive, because it is never assigned, it is only earned.

And now that you have a mentor, guess what? It’s time to look out for emails from folks who are in the position you were once in. That’s right. You’re ready to start thinking about the day someone calls you a mentor.

The cycle of mentorship continues!


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