When it comes to building your support team, there is only one thing more awkward than asking someone to be your mentor.
And that is being on the receiving end of, “Will you be my mentor?”
“But wait!” you’re probably thinking… “I thought I was supposed to find mentors to help me with my career growth!”
Absolutely! And there’s a much better way to do it.
Let’s start by exploring why “Will you be my mentor?” isn’t the best way to begin a mentoring relationship.
This question reminds me of the Dr. Seuss book “Are You My Mother?”
In this childhood classic, a bird hatches while his mother is away and he immediately goes on a quest to find her. The baby bird approaches a cat, hen, dog, cow, bulldozer, crane, and a boat, before he finds his mother. Our protagonist isn’t sure what he’s looking for. The baby bird is exhausted and vulnerable during his time consuming search.
Finding a mentor shouldn’t feel like this.
Here are a few actions that will help to narrow your mentor candidate pool and help you to identify the ideal person:
Identify your skill gaps - You may be looking for assistance navigating difficult company politics, reading the corporate financial statements, or getting assigned to high profile projects. Get clear on what you want to accomplish in a mentoring relationship.
Tell friends and colleagues that you’re looking for a mentor - Be specific about the type of support you’re looking for and exactly what you’d like to learn. The people closest to you may have recommendations that haven’t yet crossed your mind.
Outline an ideal meeting cadence and format – This will be very helpful when the time is right to propose regular meetings. A few ideas to consider include:
Once a month over coffee or lunch
After work one day a week for guidance on a specific project or issue
As a participant in a group mentoring or mastermind program
List the attributes of people you enjoy spending time with – Write down the qualities, passions, and personality styles of the people you enjoy the most. Alternately, you many want to write down the qualities of people you run from in the office. When you’ve identified who you want to approach, these lists will be great resources to ensure you’ve selected someone you’ll enjoy meeting with.
Identify your areas of expertise that would benefit your mentor - Mentoring is a two way street. What can your mentor learn from you? Knowledge areas may include:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Crowd Source Funding
When you’re clear on the type of support you need, it’s easier to clearly identify who would be the best fit. Decide whom you’d like to target as your mentor and create a plan on how you’ll build a relationship with her.
Getting to know a potential mentor can be tricky if you don’t already have regular interactions with her. Start by doing your homework:
Complete online research to find common interests or affiliations - Are you:
Alumni of the same college?
Members of an association?
Connected with the same people on LinkedIn?
Parents of small children?
Read articles and books she has written - Take note of the content that most resonates with you and mention this during conversations.
Study her LinkedIn profile - If you’re not currently connected, send a personal note along with your connection request.
Ask friends or colleagues who know her to:
Share their insights
Extend an introduction
Mention your desire to get to know her (and why)
Put in a good word for you
Volunteer for a charity, non-profit, or event she is passionate about - This is a great way to get to know your ideal mentor and give back to the community at the same time! These activities also provide leadership and learning opportunities that you may not have previously considered.
Mentorship is a relationship, so building a connection through shared interests is the best place to start. Get to know your target mentor on a personal level, and engage in casual conversations. Share the specific areas of personal growth that you’re working on. You may be surprised to learn that you can help her increase competency in an area that you’re an expert in.
Your next step is simple. Ask your ideal mentor to breakfast or lunch. (Note: If it’s not a hardship, it’s a nice gesture to pay for her meal or coffee.) Remember to:
Tell her how much you appreciate her time and how you’ll use what you’ve learned.
Take action on her suggestions as quickly as possible.
Follow-up to let her know the results and what you’ve learned.
Ask if you can meet again in a few weeks. When the time is right… throw in, “Can we make this a regular occurrence? I’m learning so much!”
Here’s the magical part… It’s very likely that you’ll never need to ask, “Will you be my mentor?”
Your relationship will form naturally. It may become a structured mentorship, a more casual exchange of ideas, or a wind up being a friendship over time.
You will need many different people on your support team as you rise in your career. Stay mindful of the gaps you need to fill, ensure you have the right people in place to help you progress forward, and always focus on building and maintaining connections.
Keep the relationship fluid by giving value to your mentor; she shouldn’t always be the one giving in the relationship. That’s exhausting and it’s not sustainable.
Then… become a mentor to someone who needs your support. This may require you to reach out and ask a more junior colleague how you can help. Perhaps you can volunteer for your company’s mentoring program. Make it a priority to engage in mentorship reciprocity.