The benefits of having a mentor are twofold. First, mentors can provide less-experienced professionals with tactical advice on how to get there from here and how to address challenges that crop up along the way. Second, mentors can advocate for their mentees, using their influence to open doors that would have otherwise remained closed or off limits.
There’s no doubt that getting a mentor is a wise idea for young employees. But how do you actually go about getting one (and the right one, at that)? The following steps can help.
1. Know what you’re looking for
Before taking any other action, mentee hopefuls should clearly define what they’re looking for from a mentor. Use the following questions as a guide:
What specific type of guidance are you looking for? Career-specific / strategic / personal development / skill-based / other?
How often would you like to meet with your mentor? For how much time?
Would high-level advice be more useful to you? Or are you looking for extremely actionable tips?
Identify a few potential mentor candidates based on the specific type of relationship you’re seeking. For instance, if you’re looking for actionable tips on how to get to the next stage in your career, reaching out to the CEO probably isn’t the best idea. Contacting a senior person in your company who has made the very same transition will yield far better results.
2. Stand out
Senior leaders get “will you be my mentor?” emails on a fairly regular basis. Here’s a rough translation from their perspective: “You have no idea who I am, but I want to take up your valuable time.” Not the best approach.
Instead, devote yourself to standing out in your current position and getting on your ideal mentor’s radar through exemplary performance. Mentoring relationships are time-consuming for both parties, and time-strapped senior leaders want to know that their investment will pay off. By proving that you are a diamond in the rough through action, potential mentors will naturally become more interested in shining up your talent.
3. Find a way to help them
After letting your actions speak for you for a period of time, you’ll want to reach out to your mentor directly and let you speak for you. But what should you say in that critical first interaction?
Keeping in mind that leaders are typically bombarded with requests, nix the ask and find a way to offer help. Send along an interesting article. Provide a fresh perspective on a recent strategic shift. Refer a valuable connection. By helping before asking for help, you set the tone that this relationship will be both give and get on both sides.
4) Let it develop naturally
Just like you wouldn’t say, “We should meet for an hour every week” after shaking someone’s hand at a networking event, you shouldn’t force a new relationship with a senior leader. Continue crushing your job, finding ways to help your mentor, and sneaking in tailored questions from time to time, and the relationship will blossom naturally.
If ever in doubt, flip the script and think about how you would like someone who wanted to seek your advice to approach you. Remember that your ideal mentor — no matter how distinguished — is a person just like you, and likely responds to authenticity, courtesy, and candor. Treat them how you would like to be treated, and watch the mentor-mentee story unfold before your eyes.