Building a Mentor Relationship
A Practical Guide in 5 Easy Steps
Why is it that so many women want professional mentors, but only a handful actually have one? It may be as simple as knowing how to ask: I hear from women frequently that they don’t know how to approach asking for a mentor.
But let’s be real – if your boss told you, “Find a mentor this week and tell me the date of your first meeting,” you would do it. Don’t let lack of initiative or fear be the thing that keeps you from your dream mentorship.
There is a lot I don’t know how to do in life, but I do know what interests me, and how to send an email. That’s all you really need to get started.
I have formal and informal relationships, both as a mentee and as a mentor. (“Pay it forward” was the greatest lesson my mentor has taught me.) Both sides of mentorship have provided me with confidence, direction, and the knowledge that the best of life is yet to come. Here’s how to get started.
Principles when seeking a mentor.
Trust your instinct and style
You know what lights you up – pay attention to the people, situations, and industries that light a natural fire in you. If you’re not yet sure what that is, start by having conversations with people near you (e.g. in your office or neighborhood). It can help to speak to other people who are really passionate about what they do or who they are – chat with them to understand why. How you react to them can teach you a lot about yourself.
Some say that you should limit yourself in your mentor search – don’t approach people who seem too elite. Already be successful before you look for a mentor. Woof.
I disagree. There’s no right or wrong way to approach someone, and whatever feels authentic to you is the right way. You won’t get it wrong if you do it with kindness and gratitude.
Respect their time and be efficient
This is HUGE. Time is everyone’s greatest asset. Honor your mentor by always following through with clear and concise communications. Make it easy for them to say “yes”.
This means suggesting meetings based on what would be most convenient for them. Remember, saying “whatever works for you” actually creates work for your mentor. I can’t emphasize this enough – handling the logistics is your job. It’s not difficult work, but it shows gratitude and appreciation upfront.
Be OK with rejection
Prospective mentors will say “no”, and it’s often not personal at all. Mentorships change as time goes on and life gets more or less busy. People come and go; special ones have a way of re-entering your life.
Learn to embrace rejection – it takes a lot of nos to get to yes, and sometimes you only need one yes. Handling rejection is one of the best professional skills you can develop. Even though we’re all special snowflakes, we all get rejected sometimes. Shaking it off is a superpower.
5 Easy Steps to Mentorship:
- Decide who to ask. – Think about people who could help you advance in a particular area. Ask yourself who has been down the same path, or who exhibits a style you admire?
- Contact them via email. – Keep it short, sweet, and specific! (So it’s easy to say “yes!”) If you’re able to offer your mentor some information about your relevant expertise, that’s nice too. Mentorships can easily be a 2-way street.
- Know what you want to accomplish. – Always have clear and concise questions ready to get the conversation started. It can be as simple as “I was struck by XYZ and wanted to learn more!” Be prepared, but don’t overthink it.
- Meet up! – Be on time, ask questions, listen actively, and buy the coffee!
- Follow through. – Send a thank you note. If you hit it off, suggest the next meeting time and send that Google calendar invite.
Recently I set up a meeting with someone I met at an industry conference. A roundtable discussion leader with a cool business and a lot of poise caught my eye. I looked her up on LinkedIn and saw that we were the same age – if she can achieve epic things, why not me?
I sent her an email letting her know how excited I was to hear about her business, and that I wanted to know more. Within 24 hours we had set up a coffee date, and I sent her a calendar invite, with a quick note to confirm. Bam.
Will she become an ongoing mentor? Perhaps. Yet all I expect is an energizing meeting. If it’s a one-and-done coffee and conversation, it’s still time well-spent. If it seems there is value in creating an ongoing relationship, I’ll take the lead on scheduling.
In the meantime, I can’t wait to meet her and ask all my burning questions. I’m so grateful to have amazing mentors – women (and men, who are boss) creating positive change in the world. I hope this article helps you to see and seize opportunities for growth through mentorship.
About the Author
Zoe Schwartz is the Director of US Regional Marketing for Tough Mudder, Inc. She keeps the Tough Mudder communities connected throughout the year. Zoe has over a decade of experience in classic brand management. She has driven new product innovation, solidified new partnerships, and devised annual brand campaigns.
Zoe has a BA in International Relations from Carleton College and an MBA from UVA’s Darden School of Business. She is also the owner/operator of Fitness by Zoe, an in-person and online personal training and group fitness business.
Her style is consumer-fist and scrappy, using her sense of urgency and purpose to deliver exceptional business results. You can reach out to her on BrightCrowd if you’ve got questions!