How To Actually Find a Mentor

by on October 9th, 2012

I am sure you already know how important it is to find a mentor to show you the ropes and help you succeed. You have probably heard it over and over again. But, no one really tells you how to do it, right?

I think a lot of companies believe that mentorship is really important. I don’t know how many times I have had an action on my personal development plan at work to “Find a Mentor.” But, no one told me how!  When I first started, there were very few women in my company to begin with and I couldn’t find many that I actually clicked with and admired. Eventually, I was able to find one but it was a lot harder than I think my managers thought it would be (especially for an introvert!)

Here are my two simple tips to find a mentor:

1) Be Natural and Don’t Force It

I believe that mentorship has to be natural and not forced. None of the mentors I had did I ever call my “mentors.” But looking back at my professional life, that is exactly what they were. One of my mentors connected me with everyone in her address book and eventually got me my first job. Another mentor taught me all about networking and informational interviews. Another mentor helped guide me through my first job out of college and made sure that I got promoted my first year. There is no way that I would have been as successful as I have been at my company without her guidance that first year. If I went up to them today, they would never know how pivotal they were in my life and how much they influenced me. They probably had no idea they were even my mentors. Why? Because it was so natural and it didn’t need the formal mentor relationship where you each sign a document you will meet a certain amount of times per year, etc.

When I was in business school, I also joined a formal mentor program. We all signed this form that we would be in the mentorship for a year and yadayadayada. That forced mentor program didn’t go very well. I can’t even tell you what I even got out of it because the person I was matched with just didn’t fit with me. It wasn’t natural, it was forced.  (He liked to watch the basketball game that was going on right behind me while I talked. Yeah, that wasn’t going to work for me).

Find someone that you get along with and that you admire. Be picky. It is really important to find someone that is in the position where you want to be someday. Then just try to get to know him or her as much as possible and ask them questions. Whatever you do, don’t come out of the blue and say, “Will you be my mentor?” That’s a bad way to start. Why? Because people are busy and if someone asked me that, I would get overwhelmed. How do I help them? What if I don’t work well with them? What even are her goals? Has she even done any research on me? There are so many reasons not to ask that question. Just don’t do it. Instead, make it natural and get to know them as much as possible first.

2) Help Your Mentor

So if you can’t ask them to be your mentor, then how do you start? Take the focus off of yourself and what you need right now, and help them instead. Ask them what their biggest goals and issues are right now and then work your butt off to help them reach their goals or get rid of any issues they have. There are many ways you can do this.  You can help them with research.  You can connect people in your network to them. You can write out a sample business plan for them.  You can volunteer to take over a project for them at work. If you help them, they will help you. It’s that simple.

One of the readers of my blog just told me how she helped her mentor. She reached out to an old boss that she wanted to continue a relationship with and asked her to get together sometime. She told her that she was very open to fit the meeting around her schedule because she knew she was very busy. Her mentor thought of a perfect way that she could help her out!  She asked that she bring her dog and meet at a nearby park over the weekend. This way, her daughters could play with her dog while they chatted!  Such a perfect way to help! Always be on the lookout of how you can help your mentor and come out and just ask them. (This is also a great reminder that meetings don’t have to be at work or in an office. Try to grab dinner or do an activity with your mentor to try to get to really know them outside of work).

And of course you have to remember to help you mentor by initiating the meetings and relationship. So don’t wait for them to call you. If it has been a while, contact them and ask to get together again. If you have a question, feel free to email them.

If you are still scared, just think that it will actually flatter your mentor when you ask them questions about their life and their success. You aren’t nagging or bugging them. You are telling them how awesome you think they are and how you want to learn from them.

Have you had a mentor? How did the mentorship start?

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