From offering insight into a new industry to providing crucial feedback mentors offer more than advice and guidance, they can help you hone your skillset and identify key areas that will help you push your business forward. Sounds great, right? Not so fast.
But before you start scrolling through your LinkedIn and sending casual emails and texts, take some time to set yourself up for success by making yourself an ideal mentee. Here are seven ways to prep before you make the big ask.
IDENTIFY THE MAIN AREA YOU NEED TO IMPROVE.
This first step is key. Instead of thinking about your “dream job” or the company you want to get into, consider the area you want to grow in. Remember that a mentor is not a life coach and no one will appreciate you showing up on their proverbial door expecting a job or a contact list without doing the work. Bottom line: know what you need in specific terms. Do you want to better understand digital strategy? Feel more at ease speaking publicly? Hone an executive presence? Take some time to self-reflect and prioritize your needs and then work to clearly express them in a one minute pitch.
If you have ever had someone interrupt your workday to ask you for easily-obtainable information, you know how lazy it looks. If you were the one asking, let me be the person to tell you how lazy it looks.
One of the best skills you can equip yourself with is the ability to research, and as we live in the age of technology, there’s no excuse to ask someone for information before you’ve at least done an extensive search on Google. Spend some time online searching for online courses, in-person workshops, books and podcasts that will aid in your growth. Eventbrite, Udemy and Meet-Up are all great places to start and The Muse has put out a solid list of podcasts that promise to give your career a boost. You want a mentor to offer you golden nuggets you can’t easily access on YouTube and you’ll ask far more interesting questions (hence stronger results) after taking a few courses.
MAKE A PLAN
You wouldn’t jump into your car and start driving without directions so why would you just dive into something as important as your career progress without having a solid understanding of where you want to and what time you want to get there?
Once you have figured out what you need and done some research, you’re ready to gather your materials and set up your short and long term goals. Maybe you will listen to three podcasts and attend one meet up this week, and watch two Ted Talks next week. Or you might sign up for a three-week workshop and attend one lecture this month. The key is to actively participate in your community and show your new mentor that you’re involved and working to stay current while hitting specific milestones along the way.
Once you have set a plan, get moving. Don’t wait for “the right time”, just start. Once you have started, commit to seeing it through, reminding yourself that you are worth the investment and you’re earning your “right” to a great mentor. Sticking with your plan will show you that you can keep your own word and you’ll have some “proof” of recent dedication to show potential advisors.
SEEK OUT A MENTOR
Now that you have done the work and can show someone that you’re serious about becoming a better version of your professional self, you’re ready to identify potential mentors in your network. Look for someone who has known you long enough to be familiar with your work and who has overcome challenges similar to yours. Work on a quick elevator pitch which clearly showcases what you need in a mentor, why you are asking them specifically and how you think you will benefit from their support. Be sure to include links to your LinkedIn, your CV and your portfolio in the email to make it easy for them to gather information and you will stand out as someone who is strategic, focused, clear and hardworking. What better way to attract a great mentor (and show respect for their time).
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS (AND DO YOUR PART)
Once someone has chosen to mentor you, ensure seamlessness by agreeing on a timeframe and communicate expectations and limitations on both sides. Once this has been done, it is essential that you hold up your end of the agreementt. Show up to scheduled appointments on time and with all of the agreed-upon materials. Have a list of 5 or 10 questions to ask and your own suggestions for next steps. Discuss what you found challenging and what you have learned so that your mentor is clear on your current needs. Remember that you both want this to be successful and neither of you want to waste time focusing on irrelevant scenarios.
FINALLY, MAKE A GRACEFUL EXIT
Once the agreed-upon timeframe has expired, thank your mentor for their time and wisdom (a handwritten card is always appreciated) and move on. It’s important to remember that mentorship has a timeframe and unless you have been invited to stay in touch beyond the occasional check-in, don’t. It may sound harsh, but the reality is that these men and women have their own lives, jobs and many times, other people they are mentoring and continuously sending them emails, texts and calls can come across as unappreciative and pushy, even if that’s not the intention.
*Originally written for BDC’s Column in Business Leader Magazine.