There is a lot of advice out there about mentorship and mentors, namely, how to find one who is the right fit for you.
I’m of the opinion that a mentor can come from anywhere, and if it means reaching out to a stranger whose work you admire, then go forth and ask.
Still, whether reaching out to someone you know or a complete stranger, I believe there are certain guidelines you should follow to to maximize your chances for success. Below are eight of them.
1. Network on your own terms.
One of the most important things you can do to find a potential mentor who would be a good fit is to network on your own terms. By this I mean, if happy hours aren’t your thing, or if you’re a parent who has to immediately rush to daycare after leaving the office, then don’t think of weeknight happy hours as being your only option to network with other professionals.
Look for other opportunities to connect, either formal or informal. If there is a morning or afternoon event, try making that instead. Sometimes professional associations host weekend events, which can also be a great opportunity to connect with someone you might have otherwise missed.
Also, don’t limit yourself to formal gatherings. If there’s a person or group of people you’re really interested in meeting then reach out directly to them and try to set something up. Don’t rely on the obvious paths–forge your own.
2. Learn about your community.
Make an effort to learn about the community in which you practice or work.
For example, if you’re an attorney, most state and local bar associations have newsletters or bulletins they issue on a monthly or quarterly basis. They’re filled with stories and accolades about new and experienced attorneys, events, and initiatives.
Reading these publications is a good way to get a sense of your professional community and those who practice in it. You may take a particular interest in someone’s work or career trajectory, and if you do, reach out to them and let them know you appreciate their work.
Even if they don’t become a mentor, you’ll at least have made a new professional acquaintance.
3. Establish genuine connections.
A true mentor-mentee relationship is never forced, so always strive to establish genuine connections with people. Don’t try to force a relationship with someone because you think they’re important and would be good for your career.
Similarly, don’t dismiss someone because you think their position is unimportant.
Treat everyone with respect and don’t try to change your values to match those of the person with whom you’re hoping to connect.
4. Put yourself in their shoes.
If you’re interested in connecting with someone you view as a potential mentor, be sure to put yourself in their shoes when reaching out to them. If they’re a working parent, don’t suggest meeting for dinner at 6:30 P.M. on a Friday.
On the other hand, if they suggest that time, and it also works for you, then go ahead and meet with them then.
If the person works in a busy practice downtown and you’re located 20 minutes away in the suburbs, when making plans, don’t expect them to come to you in the first instance.
Also, when scheduling plans, don’t wax on about how busy your schedule is when trying to find a time that works. We’re all busy professionals, and it’s very likely that your potential mentor has an even fuller calendar than you.
You’re hoping this person will bring value to your life, so put yourself in their shoes, and try to make it easier for them to connect with you. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Bring value to the relationship.
A mentoring relationship is a two-way street. Often times, the mentor is someone who is older, wiser, and has spent many more years in the field. You may see them in a warm, guiding light, but don’t treat them like they’re a parent and you’re an overgrown teenager.
When you meet for a meal, don’t expect them to pay. If they offer, which is common, you can still offer to pay your way, but accept if they insist–you don’t want to turn a nice lunch into a tug-of-war over the check. You can volunteer to cover the next one.
Similarly, don’t consistently take anything without giving back–advice, assistance, gratitude. You may be early in your career, but you still have value to contribute.
Always be willing to share and bring value to your mentor’s life.
6. Know your goals.
What do you want out of the relationship? Don’t expect your mentor to steer your course. Be prepared with concrete goals and ideas for what exactly it is you need.
Similarly, if possible, know your mentor’s background and values. If their values don’t match your own, they might not be able to help you in exactly the way you’re hoping.
Of course, don’t completely disregard them because of this, but realize they may not be the right fit as your mentor.
7. Trust your instincts.
Sometimes you just know a person would be a good fit for you as a mentor. You’ve seen them countless times, have interacted with them, admire them, and just know that they are the inspirational leader you need in your life.
If there’s someone like this with whom you’ve established a connection, and who has taken an interest in your life and career, trust your instincts. There are a few great mentors I’ve had in my life who have come about just this way, and I still tremendously value those relationships.
8. Don’t be afraid to get rejected.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get rejected. When you’re reaching out to someone new, there’s always a chance that they won’t be interested in meeting with you. Similarly, there may be someone you’ve already met who just isn’t interested in getting to know you any better.
Or, maybe you’ve already started a mentoring relationship with someone, and have begun to realize it isn’t a good fit. That’s OK. Don’t be afraid to get rejected. You’ll have a lot of wins in your life, but they won’t come without losses.
Rejection will help you grow as a professional and ultimately will help you find the right mentor for you.