Here’s How to Find the Perfect Professional Mentor
I often get the incredible chance to mentor younger women, but for the budding #girlbosses I am unable to extend myself to, one of the most frequent questions I hear is about how to find a great mentor.
As someone who started a company at the age of 25, I take this question to heart and fully support the notion of building up a community of great advisors who can help you become a better leader… especially when you’re young and somewhat inexperienced.
Over the years, I’ve been able to discover, connect and continually be inspired by a handful of mentors — many of which I still work with today! From powerhouse CEOs like Marissa Mayer, to entrepreneurial peers of mine like Jenn Hyman (founder of Rent the Runway), I’ve been fortunate to receive advice from some of the best in the game.
Having a mentor is an invaluable way to help you grow professionally. While learning from your manager and teammates is always a good thing, external mentors are often fairly removed from your day-to-day work, so they can give you great perspective on the big picture.
I personally have dozens of mentors, not just one. I check in with them on a somewhat random basis, and overall I’d break them down into two categories of people: 1) people who are experts in my field and can push me to get even better at what I do, and 2) people who are experts in fields I am not, so that I can constantly be challenging myself to learn new things. (I even have mentors for hobbies I want to get better at, like DSLR photography!)
So how do you find the perfect mentor? Here are five tips that may help get you started:
1. Identify Your Person (or People): While many may believe a mentor is someone that has to be an individual in a more senior role, that’s not necessarily true. In reality, a mentor can also be your peer. After all, mentorship is all about learning something new or expanding your skills outside of your comfort zone. Don’t judge a mentor by their age or experience level. If you feel like one of your working counterparts can provide advice or support, then go get it from them!
2. Let It Evolve Organically: This is the part I think most young people mess up on most. Please please PLEASE never flat out ask someone “to be your mentor.” That’s just awkward. It’s also a heavy proposition with a lot of weight behind it — and how uncomfortable would it be if the person said “no” right then and there?
Make those #mentorgoals a natural progression. How? Suggest ideas or throw your hat in the ring for new projects that might even help them (!)… free of charge. This is the #1 trick for getting a response. Go out of your way to help them first, and then they will likely feel indebted to help you next. Trust me, it works.
3. Social Media Management: There’s a fine line between being friends on social media and stalking someone on social media. Don’t cross that line. Follow them and keep an eye on inspiring information and articles they share, but don’t comment on every single update. That can feel like an invasion of privacy and won’t help foster a mentor-mentee relationship. (See tip number two above if you need a refresher on organic relationship building!) If you have their email address or phone number, the same rules apply for overstaying your welcome — be careful about how much you are reaching out or asking of them. You don’t want to be a nag on their schedule (or inbox).
4. Mindful Communication: Emailing and asking someone out to coffee, to message you back, or to hop on the phone for a chat does *not* work for a CEO or folks in super senior positions. Their schedules are CRAY and frankly, if meeting with you does not help them or their business out in any way, then it’s really hard to justify them blocking their time on a calendar. Try a different route (like getting a job at their company!) if you really want to learn from them. Or, do something that requires very little time, like asking a question via a Tweet, Snap or Facebook comment. I mean it when I say that the Tweet is the new cold call. Use it wisely.
5. Showcase Your Skills: Don’t simply request help or guidance from a mentor — let them know what skills you’ve got and what you’d like to learn. That way, if you develop a mentoring relationship, they’ll know where you want to end up and how best to help you get there. And because I can’t stress it enough, I’m going to say it again: Offer to use your said skills to help *them* in some fashion first. Karma always comes back around.
It can be tricky to find someone you connect with enough to establish a mentor-mentee relationship. Hey, relationships are hard! And they take time to build! But I promise it’s worth it. Use these tips and you’ll be able to lock down a badass mentor in no time.
Let me know how it goes. But please, share first in a comment. We can grab coffee later ;)
Who is your mentor? Give ‘em a shout out to me on Twitter with one of their biggest pieces of advice or why you look up to them.
(Photos via @brit)