At first, I’d thought the mentors would come find me. That by signing up for an official mentor program and telling people in my network that I was looking for a mentor, someone would step up and reach out to me. That was not the case.
For starters, I’ve learned that mentors come in all shapes and sizes and very rarely do you find one when you’re explicitly looking for a mentor. It’s like the common belief around finding a romantic partner, you’ll find it when you’re least expecting it. The same can be said for finding a mentor.
My current list of mentors include friends, alumni, former coworkers, and even a few clients. They are people that I know because of a common interest or experience and based on how often we kept in touch, our personalities, and our current situations, we grew into a mentor/mentee relationship.
One of my mentors is a good friend who has taught me how to grow into myself and embrace the parts of me that make me unique (and a little weird). I have another former colleague who is my go-to sounding board for career questions and challenges. I’ve also relied heavily on my university’s alumni network for advice when moving to a new city, changing jobs, and meeting new people.
It’s kind of funny how that mentors can organically appear but there is one common thread throughout my mentor relationships: I was proactive.
In most of those examples, I reached out to them and I’ve put the effort into following up with them.
It’s rare to find someone who has “wants to be a mentor” listed on their LinkedIn profile or is openly offering to be a mentor at a networking event. A mentor-mentee relationship takes time and energy on both sides, but it is a transactional relationship.
On one side, the mentor brings their experience and advice to the relationship, however, their time is limited as they’re farther along in their career or busy with family. On the other side, the mentee is looking to learn and has time to give and invest in the relationship.
Time is the common link, one person has plenty of it and the other has limited time. I’ve learned to use that to my advantage and invest my time into my mentor relationships.
I was proactive in sending emails to potential mentors, thanking them for connecting and following up with them every few weeks or months, and constantly looking for new mentors.
As you start your mentor search or are you’re looking to find new mentors, here are three habits you can apply to become a more proactive mentee:
Don’t be afraid of the cold email/message - I really struggled with this when I first got started, as I felt awkward and weird reaching out to people I didn’t know. But through a lot of trial and error, I found that there most people are happy to answer your emails, questions, and messages when they can tell you’ve taken the time to do you research.
Look the person up online before reaching out, identify a common interest or something that you think will be of interest to them, and highlight that in your email. This will help you stand out from the rest of the random emails they receive and is the first step to showing them that you are serious.
It takes time to figure out exactly how to introduce yourself in a cold email. I usually use 2-3 sentences and focus on why they should keep reading in those first few sentences. I’ll add in the common interest from my research and finish off with a question or request to have a quick call or invite them for coffee. Your cold email might look a little different from this but there’s no way to know until you start sending them.
Thank them and set a reminder to follow-up in a month - A well-crafted thank you email never goes out of style. You want to show your potential new mentor that you’re grateful for their time and follow-up on any ideas or comments that have come up since your last email, call, or meeting.
This is also a time when you can schedule a follow-up call or meeting to keep the conversation going. If there doesn’t seem to be any organic next step, I usually set a reminder to follow-up with them in a month from now on my phone or computer.
Letting some time pass will give you the opportunity to update them on what you’ve been up to or find an article that’s interesting to them. I’ve loved using calendar or reminder tools to stay on top of your mentor relationships, as it’s very easy to forget about your follow-up note until several months have passed and you’ve missed out on building that relationship.
Constantly look for new mentors - Just like any relationship, not every mentor relationship will work out. Your goals change, you move cities, or you get busy and lose touch. That’s ok, but to mitigate against that, it’s good to avoid investing all of your time in one mentor and staying on the lookout for new ones.
There is no rule that you can only have one mentor at a time. I’ve found at different parts of my life I’ve relied on some mentors more and then others a little less. Your challenges will change and evolve on a weekly, monthly, and annual basis and so can your mentors.
I’ve utilized coffee dates as my main point for starting a relationship with anyone, whether it’s a friend, potential job lead, or mentor. It’s a low stakes way to meet the other person and I love the person-to-person interaction that sometimes is lost in an email or on a phone call. It’s easy to tell if your personalities match up and if you enjoy talking with the person. In-person meetings have strengthened my mentor relationships, even if the meeting comes weeks or months after I’ve started an email-based relationship.
You won’t get very far in your mentor relationships if you think that the hard part is finding them. Once you have a potential mentor, you need to put in the work throughout and respect your mentor’s time and energy. Block off time each month to invest in following up with current mentors, looking up new ones, and taking time to think about your own goals. Just one or two hours a month can pay off in the long run.
Don’t be afraid to take charge of your next mentor relationship and be proactive. Reach out to new contacts, continue to follow-up with old ones, and always be on the lookout for new mentors. You never know where you’ll meet the next one but you can be sure you’ll know how to grow the relationship.