By Ryan Healy — Successful entrepreneurship usually includes a group of trusted mentors, according to Ben Casnocha, author of My Start up Life. But now that I’ve spent a few months in corporate life, it’s clear to me that having a group of mentors is important whether you work for yourself or for someone else.

However, the majority of people I know are not great at seeking out and developing these relationships. What I have learned in the past few months is that it’s easier than you think! Here are three things I have done that have helped me develop very rewarding relationships with mentors.

1. Find the right network
For twentysomethings, the easiest place to look is in your parent’s network. Take advantage of it because they’ve been developing these connections for years. Ask your parents if any of their friends or colleagues work in a field you are interested in.

If you are not lucky enough to have well connected parents, all is not lost. Networking groups are everywhere these days. MeetUp.com gives you a way to find people with similar interests. Or you can start a niche blog and comment on blog posts from field-related experts. Leave a few insightful comments and your foot is in the door to contacting them.

2. Reach out
Once you have made the first connection, the next step is simple. Reach out with a short email. Ask for a few pieces of advice. Assuming your contact replies, continue the conversation for a few days. Finally, ask if she is interested in meeting up for a quick lunch. Despite the ease of connecting online, face to face interaction can make a big difference in how quickly you make your mentor feel connected with you. At the very least, try to have a relatively long phone conversation to get to know each other.

3. Think in terms of frequency
After a face to face meeting and a few emails, you should be able to tell if your contact is a potential mentor or advisor. If she is, don’t be afraid to bug her! This is always the hardest part for me, but it’s the only way you can develop a good relationship. Send an occasional email or call with a casual, not extremely important, but honest question once in a while. If she is truly annoyed by this, then it’s probably time to seek advice elsewhere. But for the most part, I have found people genuinely like to help, especially older folks. The more contact you have, the stronger the relationship will be and the more interest your advisor will take in your career.

Finding a true mentor can take a long time, but almost everyone will offer advice and guidance if asked politely. Corporate cultures that encourage collaboration between young and old are absolutely necessary, but the responsibility of developing these relationships is in the hands of young workers. Reach out to someone. Take a chance. The details will work themselves out.

Ryan Healy’s blog is Employee Evolution.

Other Brazen Careerist posts on mentoring:

7 Steps to finding and keeping a mentor

How to ask for mentoring

You need a mentor now, here’s how to get one

16 replies
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    Great post!

    I would recommend questions, requests for advice, favors, etc. be very specific.

    Examples would be "Could I have 5 minutes to discuss this topic?" "What is an appropriate host gift at my boss' Christmas party?" "What is the 1 most important thing I can do to merit a raise?"

    PS. After the last round of comments, you are bold to stick your head up!

  2. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I think one of the best ways for our generation to have a positive impact on the workforce will be to work closely with mentors who can help us get solid footing. And then we can inspire them to seek out the very best in their jobs and careers.

    Mentoring in a two way street.

  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    This is something I’ve been looking for, for a long time. I’m in the computer industry, I find that trying to find a mentor in this industry is tough because a lot of people have the “know it all” complex and are more interested in shoving it in your face than being a teacher. I’ve taught Microsoft Office for 4 years — I know how to communicate and mentor without coming across as a know it all. You mentioned before you worked in the Software industry, any ideas where I might someone who can teach and or mentor me? I’m thinking so far that the best place to look is for managers in large companies — they seem to be more objective than the small business people or are stressed out with too much work. Not to mention that I’ve come to believe that the reason the know it alls are in small companies is because they’re just too proud to admit that they don’t know everything. As for the managers of large companies, where’s the best place to meet people like this and in your experience are they willing to mentor? Thanks for your help, Tom

    ********
    Hey Tom,

    I’m actually not in the software industry, so I probably don’t have the best answer. However, I think you are underestimating folks in small companies. I’m sure they are stressed out like everyone else, if not more, but my experience is that most people really like to help. Also, if they are entrepreneurs, I bet they would love to help out another ambitious person. Managers in larger companies may be harder to find. They probably have junior workers at their company knocking on their doors, and developing these workers is their main priority (hopefully). Make a list of everyone you know who could possibly know someone in the industry. Then try reaching out with a short question to initiate things.

  4. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    Well put, Ryan. I think that many workers don’t realize that they can seek out mentors though the simple actions you described above. It trule is easier than we think. Sometimes, I’ve developed mentoring relationships with people and didn’t realize it until I looked back on the relationship – usually one that impacted my life profoundly.

  5. Billy Bjorn
    Billy Bjorn says:

    I would very much agree. I found a mentor in someone in my parent's network. Several phone calls later, lots of advice and questions back and forth, had an interview set up which led to a sponsorship to a symposium/congress – €“ and lots of loitering and hand shaking later I found myself talking with a branch manager who later gave me a job in his office. Not everyone can become a consultant this way, and my timing was ass-kicking-ly lucky – €“ but it all started with my folk's friend who was more than happy to send advice and comments my way through my job-search period.

    Bottom line: there are people who actually WANT to see you succeed, and if not for you, then for themselves (Karma?) – and there are people out there who will give you a job for being yourself.

    ********

    That sure was “ass-kicking-ly lucky.” I wouldn’t expect every relationship to result in a great job, but one of them very well may in the future.

  6. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    My best mentor came out of a fundraising presentation I gave to a professional organization, asking for money to help send me to a leadership conference.

    Not only did the organization make a donation, but a met someone who offered to pick up the difference, on the condition that I tell her all about it when I got back. It turned into years of a great mentorship/friendship.

  7. Nina
    Nina says:

    Ryan,

    Over the years, my best mentors have been managers or senior executives that I've clicked with – much in the same way that a friendship might naturally develop. I can name 5 mentors from the past 18 years that have influenced my career path, job satisfaction and earning potential but I never had the "please, be my mentor" conversation with any of them.

    I would encourage you to not be too process oriented or calculated with your mentor-finding approach but rather focus on connecting with someone that can be the wiser, older friend. Typically, chemistry is what begets the friendship while hierarchy and experience makes them a mentor.

    ********

    There is no tried and true process to find a mentor. These were merely suggestions to get things going. Like I said at the end, reach out to someone and the details will work themselves out.

  8. Stephanie Sheaffer
    Stephanie Sheaffer says:

    Great post!

    I’m always on-the-lookout for mentors because I think they are crucial for personal and professional success. I love learning from those who have gone before me.

    One quick question: when you pursue a mentoring relationship, do you actually ask the person to mentor you (using those words) or is it more of an unstated relationship?

    ********

    I would stay away from actually asking someone to mentor you. It can put undue pressure on them. Also, a mentor can mean a few quick emails or phone calls a month in your mind, but someone else may think of it as a huge time commitment.

  9. Jovie Baclayon
    Jovie Baclayon says:

    Great advice! I find that a lot of young people are too hesitant when it comes to finding mentors — they don’t want to “bother” anyone. Most would-be mentors are more than willing to share their expertise with someone else who really wants to learn — just be sincere and offer your help in return.

    20-somethings should also remember that former professors or even high school teachers make great mentors (whether they remember you or not) so don’t be afraid to reach back out to them.

  10. Alan
    Alan says:

    Most of the time, the answer to our endless search is to look at the right place. We’ve encountered a lot of problems regarding time when we look for the right person. It’s in our decision on where to search.

  11. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Awesome Post! Perhaps the hardest part is building the courage to make the first email. I’ve found that a lot of people in my age group are worried about looking desperate.

  12. Jay Hargis
    Jay Hargis says:

    At a company I worked with, mentees and mentors were assigned to each other via a matching program. One of the biggest challenges was meeting the mentees expectations. It became evident that most mentees joined the program in order to find the secret recipe for getting promoted. Since that was the main interest of the mentee, it became incumbent upon the mentor to do most of the work–and, if the mentee didn’t get promoted in the next cycle, the mentor could be looked upon as a failure.

    I think that if an organization is going to create a formal mentor/mentee program, it is critical that the mentee understand that the relationship is just as much their responsibiliy as it is the mentors. It has to be a 50/50 deal or it won’t work.

    It is also critical that both mentor and mentee come to the table with relationship expectations. It is ok to let each other know your dreams and aspirations along with helping you sell an idea internally or talking career strategy. Remember, it is supposed to be fun–for both of you.

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