Going through life alone and dealing with personal problems yourself isn’t reasonable or ideal. We need our friends and family to get through the toughest times with us, and share our most memorable moments with us. The same thing is true for your professional life – you need someone to help you when you feel like you’re just going through the motions. A lot of people have what a mentor really is confused, and therefore they don’t truly know how to go about finding one. A mentor isn’t someone you talk to everyday for about a half hour about your problems and they tell you what to do – that’s a therapist. Your mentor doesn’t have to be someone you talk to all the time or even solely about your professional ambitions. A mentor should be there to guide you when you have life changing decisions to make, problems facing you that you can’t work out alone and most importantly, a champion of you. Your mentor is the person you know will always be in your corner and support you in all your ventures.
Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for a mentor:
1. Be Supportive
If you know who you would like to get closer to, the best way to get your foot in the door is to support them. That means going to their events, registering for their online courses and webinars, tuning in when they Periscope, etc. Why? The point is to make yourself visible and put yourself in the spaces they’re in. When your potential mentor sees you asking questions in his/her chats and showing up to events they will definitely start to notice you. Always try to start a conversation with them and don’t be shy about telling them how much you admire what they do and how you support them. Put yourself out there enough and you’ll eventually land on your potential mentor’s radar.
2. Be Thoughtful
Being thoughtful is maybe one of the hardest concepts for mentor-seeking professionals to grasp. The last thing someone wants to get is a cold email from someone who is just asking, asking, and asking for more. Think about how you can help them before you even reach out. If they mentor you, what will they get out of the relationship? For me, my mentor was able to take me under her wing and she got an intern from our connection. So I was putting in work for her, but she was also helping me when I needed it. Are you a good writer? Maybe you can start by contributing to their blog and develop a relationship that way. Or perhaps you have an eye for the latest trends and they happen to do style blogging.
Figure out what you know how to do, what your ”fleek factor” is as Emmelie de la Cruz would say. Knowing what you can bring to the table is critical for establishing a name for yourself – something you don’t want to approach someone you admire not knowing.
3. Don’t Force it
The worst thing you can do is try to force a relationship, of any kind. Most times, the chemistry will just be there and things will happen naturally. It’s important to see this person as just that, a person. If you always have on your mind the fact that they’re a top level executive or a major industry influencer, then you won’t really be able to open up and create an authentic relationship. No one wants to be around someone if it’s all play all the time but no one wants to talk business all day either. Besides, when you mean what you say it’s harder to come off as fake anyway. All compliments to their business should be the truth and all inquiries about wanting to help them as well should be genuine, people tend to see right through the opportunists.
If you happen to score a lunch date, a few minutes at a meetup or even a phone meeting, come prepared with your homework done on them and plenty of things to talk about. Research industry news, their latest projects and ask about their regular everyday life aside from business. The best way to form a good relationship with a potential mentor is acting like they’re already in your circle.
It doesn’t matter what you want to do with your life, you definitely need a mentor – someone to be your cheerleader and your coach. When I thought I wanted to go into fashion PR my sophomore year in college, there was only one girl I saw doing everything I needed to be in my city. She attended a nearby college, and had her own small business where she serviced other students building brands. She collaborated with on campus clubs and Greek lettered organizations for professional events, and had an extensive resume working with major brands in fashion. I stumbled upon her Instagram but the start of the semester and made it my mission to get close with her. I did everything I listed above; I showed up to her events and started conversations, I supported on social media, and I applied to be her intern and give her what I could, which wasn’t much because I had no formal work experience (she REALLY took a chance on me). I can’t help but think that was all because she saw I did my homework on her and and went out of my way to support. Being broke in college doesn’t really make $40 cab rides no big deal, but I did it anyway. That was two years ago, and she remains someone who can ask me for anything.
The moral of the story is that relationships that aren’t genuine and allowed to grow over time don’t last. If you only speak when you need something or don’t bother to ever reach out again after working with the person, the relationship isn’t going to grow. It takes time to form mentor-mentee relationship even if you’re asking outright for them to guide you. The next steps for anyone looking to get the right people in their corner should make a list of all potential mentors, ask yourself why you like them and what you can do for them. Plan actionable steps you can take to get in their good graces and be thoughtful in everything you day and you. If you don’t remember anything from this, remember making it all about you will leave you without a mentor.