Mentors are like parents, but without the nagging. They can help you find direction in your life and give you insight on what it’s like being a responsible adult. Most people figure out a way to navigate their careers without a mentor just fine, but if someone is willing to sit down with you and talk you through your life, why not take advantage?
Of course, finding the right person in your field takes some concentrated effort. How do you begin to find a mentor? What type of person should you consider to be your mentor? What do you even look for? Can you just stalk random people on LinkedIn and send them a private message asking for mentorship? (Hint: the answer is no).
Clearly, there’s an art to finding mentorship. It’s not just about scheduling as many coffee chats and then just finding “the right one”. It’s kind of like dating, where you should be selective with the type of people you reach out to. While there’s never a one size fits all, the following guide will help you in the quest to find someone who’s ready and willing to being a good mentor.
Where to Look and What to Look for
Finding an advisor isn’t as easy as looking at the most successful person in your field and sending them a “mentor-request”. If it was we probably wouldn’t be writing this article. Luckily, there are plenty of potential advisors around you!
There’s generally two different kinds of people that you can approach for mentorship: those you already have a relationship with -- such as professors, co-workers, classmates, etc. -- and those who don’t know your name yet -- i.e., everyone else.
So where can you find a mentor who you don’t already have a connection to? A great place to start is at networking events. If you don’t know what networking events are available in your area, just google for them! Alternatively, if you join LinkedIn groups specific to your field or interest (e.g., female leadership), you’ll sometimes find event invites to cool networking shindigs. If you can, research the people going to the event ahead of time to see if there is anyone you specifically want to get to know at the event, but don’t be a creeper about it. Introducing yourself with “Hey! Is your grandma okay? I saw she was in the hospital a couple months ago”, is not going to make you any new friends. The opposite is more likely, honestly.
But what if you can’t meet them in person? LinkedIn isn’t like bumble (thank god) where you can just ask a person you like to grab a coffee and chat. Instead, we recommend you tweet their posts, follow and comment on their blogs, and recommend their content to other people. By spreading and engaging with their content, you show that you're invested and can further the conversation. Sending them a PM after that would be a lot less weird.
That said, even when you’ve met who you think is your dream mentor, don’t pounce on them immediately. Take time to get to know them. There are specific qualities you should look for in a mentor, and you don’t want to waste your time with someone who cannot help you grow.
Things you should look for in a potential mentor include:
1) Passion for teaching (seems obvious but so many people overlook that). If they don’t find enjoyment in helping the people around them grow and succeed, they’re not going to be a good advisor. Bottom line -- if they’re self-absorbed and can’t listen to what you have to say for more than 10 seconds... probably not a good mentor.
2) A broad network. It’s not a bad idea for some of your advisors to be upperclassmen that are just getting their names out in the industry, but you need to have at least a couple mentors with a large network. These are people who can pull strings to get you to where you need to go if they see fit. That’s invaluable.
How to Approach the Subject of Mentorship
It’s important to understand what you’re asking for when you’re looking for a mentor. A mentor isn’t someone who acts as your human life vest. They’re not somebody to help you through the hard times and then be put away when they’re no longer relevant. You need to have a relationship with each and every one of your mentors that is mutually beneficial. Show how much you appreciate them. Pay for the meal or coffee when you meet. Show them that you're following their advice. Send them emails after your meetings to thank them for their time. And don’t expect them to solve your problems or throw you a line when you’re in trouble -- that’s not what they’re there for.
Also, don’t approach them in the way you would approach yourself. More likely than not, your mentors are going to be in a different life stage than you. For example, if your potential advisor has kids, they’re probably not going to be okay with meeting you after business hours. Kids come before anything and everything in a parent’s life. Meet them where they’re at and be empathetic to their situation.
A good cue to know if you’ve found the right mentor is whether or not you have to ask them explicitly to be your mentor. It's usually clear without needing to be said. But how can you be sure they're your mentor otherwise? Easy: if you ask a potential mentor to meet up and they either don't respond or flake out on you, then it's best to let it go. Chasing and forcing the connection will only make things uncomfortable. Mentors should be engaged and excited about meeting with you and giving you advice, and anything else is a waste of both their time and yours.
Finding mentors is an art, but this is a good tutorial on how to start. People can and will say no to you, and that’s okay. Nothing worth anything comes easy. Remember to always pay it forward, and when someone comes to you for advice, take the opportunity to guide them as best you can.
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Gabriela Balicas is a recent graduate of Rice University. Once upon a time, she studied bioengineering, but when she realized she couldn’t 3D print herself a perfect boyfriend, she decided to study sports medicine instead. When she’s not flexing in the mirror, she enjoys scrolling through Drake memes and puppy videos on IG and running two successful blogs.