Background photo from 'Icelandic Roads' by Vadim Sherbakov at Creative Market
Last week I read that you should never ask someone to be your mentor. Why? Because if you're downright asking, you haven't cultivated enough of a relationship to let it subtly slide into the "mentor zone".
Finding a mentor can be one of the more nebulous concepts in career development, and certainly the most frustrating. It's like dating...choosing a boss...a parent...? Nope, not quite any of those. Hence the nebulous.
I'm a firm believer that you need to figure out what you want, and take the steps to get there. With that said, I recognize that being direct and putting yourself out there is a difficult thing to do, no matter how confident or outgoing you are.
So what now?
I argue that we re-frame the question.
Ask yourself: How do I find a mentor?
Now ask yourself: How do I meet potential mentors?
We've talked about informational interviews before, and I'm gonna talk about it again! Informational interviews are a great tool to meet potential mentors.
You reach out and ask for 5-10 minutes of their time. Your request is succinct and genuine. You prepare a handful of questions but let the conversation flow where they go. Informational interviews work well because their first impression of you is almost guaranteed to be positive. Why? Because they spent most (if not all) of the time talking about themselves!
To get the ball rolling, ask them about where they're from, where they are now, and their journey there. Where did they think they would be? What have they learned along the way? What's a day-in-the-life of their job? The best and worst parts?
You'll learn from their twists and turns, and leave them with an impression of you as professional, personable, thoughtful, and passionate about your future.
Schedule a few of these informational interviews, then sit back and reflect. Which conversation flowed the best?
Reach out to everyone you spoke with, with a mental star next to their name. Thank them for their time, include a sentence or two casually recapping something you talked about, and put a note on your calendar in 2 months to reach out again.
If you mentally starred someone, they're now in the "potential mentor" box. Add them on LinkedIn, with a personal note like "Hi Dr./Mr./Ms. LastName, Thanks again for chatting with me the other day. I enjoyed your perspective on [topic]. I'd love to connect to stay in touch. Thanks! [YourName]". You should now see any job changes or news articles they share with their network.
Putting in the effort will result in a productive relationship for both of you. Keeping in touch will result in them asking how you're progressing. They like you, they like feeling like a role model to you, and start to feel invested in your journey. When the time comes that you're looking for a job, an internship, a recommendation letter, it will be a no-brainer.
Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me in the comments.