Finding the right mentor can be a daunting task among the endless busyness of our society. The irony of seeking out mentors is that the people who seem most qualified to mentor you are too busy doing the fantastic work that makes them worthy of being a mentor. Most movers and shakers shy away from requests for mentorship because their schedules and lives are already filled to overflowing. Still, there are meaningful ways to find the right mentor and earn a spot on the calendar. The process begins with finding the right mentor.
The right mentor meets several key criteria:
- Meaningful accomplishment in your current or future field. Experience is an excellent teacher, especially when it’s earned by someone else. Find a mentor who has successfully navigated a field that interests you. They don’t necessarily have to be the richest, most famous, or most prolific — they simply need to be further along than you in some way. Explore their accomplishments and personal brand in addition to their current endeavors. Use your findings as a measuring stick.
- Pure motives for mentorship. A prospective mentor needs to have pure motives for choosing to mentor you. An inflated ego, a chaotic lifestyle or an opportunistic attitude can get in the way of your learning and growth. Find someone who legitimately wants to see you grow and succeed.
- Mental and physical space for mentorship. Even with the best intentions, some prospective mentors simply don’t have the time, space or focus to effectively offer guidance. Sometimes they’ll agree to the arrangement without actually delivering on the promise. Besides being a waste of time, chasing a mentor can be humiliating and exhausting. Save yourself the headache and choose someone who can honor the commitment.
Once you’ve identified an ideal mentor, you need to create the relationship that houses the mentorship. Here’s a little secret about finding mentors — nobody has time to mentor you. And they probably lack interest initially. If you’ve ever sought out mentors, you’ve probably found that many of them were reluctant to make the commitment and ran when they heard the word “mentor.” Even those who said yes may have failed to meet your expectations for what a mentor would be and do.
Here’s how to pique their interest and create a mentorship that works for both of you:
- Identify the mentor’s greatest areas of needs and opportunity. When scouting mentors, it’s common to focus on what you can get from the mentor. However, a more meaningful way to begin the relationship is to identify ways you can support or assist the mentor. Maybe that involves working one day a week in his or her office or perhaps it means offering connections with ideal joint venture partners.
- Identify your greatest areas of need and opportunity. A mentor is most effective when you are able to clearly articulate what you have done so far and what you hope to accomplish in the future. State exactly what you want the mentor to do and what outcomes you’re hoping for. Think about the various ways a mentor can support you: introductions, resources, problem solving, strategic guidance, career opportunities, and more. The more explicit you are with the request and your goals, the more probable a favorable outcome will be.
- Give, then ask. Find a way to be an asset to your mentor. Instead of constantly asking for things, give as much as you can. Your mentor will appreciate the effort and recognize you as more of an asset and colleague than a needy nobody.
- Create a compact offer and present it. Avoid asking anyone to “mentor” you. It’s far too vague and broad of a request. Instead, ask for something specific like permission to email them with specific, industry-related questions or a standing lunch date once a month. A mentor can easily say yes or offer alternatives to a specific request for time or advice, but a sweeping request for mentorship often feels like too much of a commitment for a busy person.
- Honor your word, and respect your mentor’s time. If you say you’ll do something, do it. Mentors tend to be very busy and may perceive you as unprofessional or amateur if you can’t honor your word. Additionally, your mentor is probably taking time away from business and family to respond to you. Don’t abuse the privilege by showing up to calls and meetings late or not following through on agreements.
- Take responsibility for the mentorship. It’s not your mentor’s job to make the mentorship worthwhile. Follow up, ask questions, and insert yourself into the mentor’s space when appropriate. Don’t wait on your mentor to reach out to you; if they’ve given you permission to do so, proactively communicate with them as often as necessary.
- Share outcomes often. One of the greatest rewards a mentor receives is hearing the updates and success stories you provide. Your feedback creates a sense of purpose and accomplishment for your mentor. Throwing advice and resources into a black hole feels useless and time-consuming. However, frequent reports outlining exactly how you’ve applied the advice or used the resources will likely inspire your mentor to expand the relationship.
Use this outline as a template for creating a powerful and effective relationship with a mentor. Do your homework in advance, and bring as much as you can to the table. Once you’ve enjoyed the fruits of mentorship, don’t forget to pass it on when someone requests mentorship from you.