There’s no doubt that having a mentor can help in your quest for career greatness. But there’s an awful lot of uncertainty about how, exactly, to find a mentor.
Finding a mentor isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. It takes time and patience, and you need to be proactive. You also have to know what you’re doing.
Instead of waiting for a mentor to find you, you need to first identify someone who can help you out. Then you need to get him or her vested in your career so that, eventually, they will want you to succeed.
Here’s how to do it.
1. Define the need. Figure out what you need to learn, and then try to identify someone who could help. Look for someone who has traveled the career path you’d like to have, or who is an expert in your field. It has to be a good fit.
2. Research. Vet your person as well as you can. If you already know or work with him or her, it should be easy. Otherwise, consider LinkedIn and Google your new best friends. Look for people who once worked with your would-be mentor or who knows him or her socially. Look for news about the person. Some people have a reputation for bringing along young people, or for championing women. Some don’t.
3. Get introduced. Let’s say you’ve identified “Allison” as your potential mentor. If you have a mutual connection, ask for an introduction. If Allison is going to be speaking at a conference, introduce yourself before she takes the stage. And have your business card handy. I’ve met numerous people at conferences who later ping me on twitter or LinkedIn, and their online picture looks nothing like I remember them. The business card is a big help.
4. Softball it. Don’t ask, “Would you be my mentor?” That’s like asking a blind date if he wants to be married within a year and have six kids. Any rational person would head for the hills.
If you’re being introduced by a third party, don’t tell your connection you’re looking for a mentor, either. Your line goes something like this: “I just joined the social media team at my new company, and while we’re doing great on Facebook and twitter, I’m having trouble with Pinterest. No one understands Pinterest better than Allison, and I was hoping she might help me out a bit. Do you think she’d be willing to chat for a few minutes?”
Here’s the catch: Whatever Allison suggests, you have to do. Otherwise this whole fail-safe method will fail. Think about this when you choose your person and your problem.
5. Stay focused. When you get the meeting, email, or phone conversation with Allison, stay focused. Keep it brief. You want Allison to help you out in the future. Be low-maintenance.
6. Say thank you. A physical note, on actual paper, is best, but email can be fine. Send it that day.
7. Follow the advice you’re given. There’s nothing more frustrating to a senior-level person than taking time out of their ridiculously busy day to meet with someone, or even to email someone, who then ignores their advice.
8. Update them. Touch base with your mentor via email and let her know how helpful her insight was, and how much you appreciate it.
9. Show her the movie. I borrowed this term from Amy Millman, the powerhouse co-founder of not-for-profit Springboard Enterprises. When something good happens to you, professionally, send a quick email to let Allison know. It doesn’t have to be something huge, like a promotion. Just keep her tuned in to your success. And again, keep it short.
10. Rinse. Repeat. When you come to another stumbling block, contact Allison again. Keep it light: “Hey, Allison, I appreciated your advice so much last time, and it had a big impact. Do you have two minutes for a phone call next week?”
Most senior people are willing to help. Sharing what they’ve learned makes them feel important, and allows them to give back. They just fear being saddled with someone who is unappreciative or reflects poorly on them. Through a few lightweight interactions, Allison will discover how great you are. She’ll be happy to help you. She’ll talk you up to colleagues and provide introductions when she can. In short, she’ll be your mentor.