When I tell people that I only succeeded in my business after I found a mentor, it’s usually met with disdain. “Ok,” They say, “And how much did you pay her?”
While I understand the confusion, this response confuses the concept of mentorship with that of coaching. Coaches charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for career advice, mentors typically don’t charge anything.
When you’re first starting out, it’s hard to evaluate who to trust. There are many internet gurus who promise big, shiny results to beginners who might not have enough experience to differentiate good advice from nonsense. Buying information is a bit of a gamble and ends up being a high barrier of entry for beginners.
When you have more time than money, it’s best to use your resources to form relationships with people you admire. The main difference between coaching and mentorship is that mentorship forms naturally. You can choose a coach, but a mentor has to choose you back.
How to find a mentor
The internet has opened new possibilities for mentorship. You’re no longer confined to asking for advice from your immediate circles. Although family members, professors, supervisors, and colleagues can make great mentors, sometimes you need to expand your network in order to get where you want to go.
But how do you get a complete stranger to help you?
To answer this question, I jumped into an event with mentor-mentee pair Scott Lease and Kevin “KD” Dorsey. Both are prominent thought leaders on Linkedin and Scott hosts “Tequila Tuesdays” every week to address important topics in sales and entrepreneurship.
This session was all about KD’s journey to and through mentorship.
The first time KD reached out to Scott, he didn’t get an answer. Looking back, he said, his initial message lacked two vital components. Namely, he failed to answer two important questions:
Why from him?
In his first message, KD asked Scott if he could “pick his brain.” This vague and overused phrase didn’t stand out in the slew of Linkedin messages Scott received every day. It failed to answer the simple question: Why am I reaching out?
After messaging 5 potential mentors per week for a year, KD noticed that he received the most positive responses when there was a clear reason for his message. When he was specific about why he was reaching out, people were much more willing to help him.
“You have to earn your right to the conversation,” he says.
You can accomplish this by doing your research – both on the subject matter that you’re looking to learn about and on the person you’re reaching out to.
Which leads to the second vital component: Why from them?
It’s not enough to know what you want to ask someone, you also have to understand why they are the perfect person to ask.
In KD’s case, he developed a much stronger message the second time around. He mentioned that he was a first time VP of sales looking for mentorship and expressed admiration for Scott’s success in developing and scaling multiple sales teams. This well-crafted message showed that KD had done his research and could articulate why Scott’s mentorship was relevant to him.
So when you’re looking for mentors, focus on answering those two questions. Narrow down what you want to learn and who you want to learn from. Not only will you be more likely to get a response, but it also forces you to laser focus your goals and priorities.
Maintaining mentorship relationships
Making contact with a potential mentor is the first step, but true growth comes from the longevity of the relationship. Developing your career may take months or even years of soundboarding and guidance.
Here are 5 tips for turning one-off advice into a meaningful mentorship:
Be persistent. It took nearly 8 months of emailing my first mentor before she was willing to invest her time and energy into my development. Send kind and courteous messages to potential mentors once every 1-2 months so they know you’re still interested. These can be updates, questions or simply wishing them happy holidays.
Respect their time. Anyone you admire probably has a full schedule. Remember that your mentors have their own careers, families and lives to tend to. Respect their time by setting meetings in advance, coming prepared and executing on their advice.
Respect their boundaries. Mentors aren’t therapists. While it’s ok to talk about challenges or ruts you’re facing in your career, you should come ready to hear solutions. If you’re still feeling emotional about an experience or situation, it’s best to talk it out with a friend or mental health professional beforehand. This will give you the mental space to make the most of your mentor’s advice.
Offer something in return. Mentorship isn’t a one-way street! While you may not have as much experience as your mentor, you can offer them your own skills or expertise. Many young people have the advantage of being tech and social media savvy. Be willing to help as much as you are being helped.
Know when to end it. One of two things can happen: either you outgrow your mentor or you realize that it isn’t a great fit. Mentor-mentee relationships should be one of mutual respect, trust, and growth. If you’re no longer getting what you need, let the relationship transform naturally.
You might find that you’re on a level playing field and have become colleagues. Or you might decide that your values don’t align and choose to step away from the relationship. Regardless, thank your mentor for their time and advice and continue to look for new mentors as your career develops.
Finding a great mentor is the easiest way to fast track your career and learn the ins-and-outs of your industry or position. Just like any relationship, it’s a two-way street that requires you to be communicative, respectful and prepared. So do your research and be persistent until you find the right fit.
Some additional communities where you can access mentors: