When you're starting out in the working world (or switching to a new career), the value of having a mentor cannot be overstated. Few people become successful without any support from anyone, and a more seasoned professional in your field can help you advocate for yourself, navigate situations you've never encountered, and make the right decisions for advancing your position.
Who should be my mentor?
In her book Power Your Happy, POPSUGAR founder and editor-in-chief Lisa Sugar suggests that your mentor could be your boss, "or it might be another higher-up in your department who understands you and supports you. Other people find mentors in family friends, former professors, or older, wiser women who don't even work in their industry."
How should I reach out to a possible mentor?
How do you contact a possible mentor without being annoying? It can feel intimidating, but the best way to get in touch is by sending a polite and friendly email. Hey, the worst that can happen is that nobody writes you back. Yet, as Lisa puts it, "there is a right way and wrong way to reach out to busy people, and your primary goal should be to not waste a second of anyone's time. Be friendly yet professional, check for errors before you hit SEND, be direct about what you're asking, and don't ramble."
What should I say?
- If the potential mentor is someone you haven't met before, clearly explain the connection. Also add how you received their contact info and why you're reaching out. Whether you have a mutual acquaintance or you just found them on LinkedIn, context is important in getting them to reply.
- Try to arrange an in-person meeting before you make your full mentorship pitch. A potential mentor is much more likely to want to invest time in you if you've begun to build a connection with them and can make your case in person.
- Keep your requests reasonable, and try to make it as easy on your possible mentor as you can. Suggest a meeting at or near the mentor's office, give multiple times to choose from, and specify how long you think the meeting will take.
- Express interest in the mentor's field in your initial email. Emails asking me for a nebulous "informational interview" fill me with dread; emails that describe an authentic passion for writing, editing, and a career in digital media are much more likely to get a response from me.
- Be clear that you're asking for a mentorship, not a job. Oftentimes, job-seekers use a "mentorship" or "informational interview" approach to get their foot in the door. That's not always a bad thing, but if an employer isn't currently looking to hire, it can be a turnoff. Be explicit about the fact that you're looking for coaching, guidance, and yes, a connection, but not an immediate job offer.