Have you ever wished you could have someone who showed you the ropes? Could share her/his secrets to success? Was available when you had a question – big or small – about how your company works, client etiquette or anything else savvy professionals should know?
A “mentor” can help. But with the evolving workplace, I think the role of a mentor has evolved as well. No longer is there one person in your company whose assent you can emulate….but there are plenty of people who can help you on your rise.
Getting a mentor doesn’t have to be a big, formal process. My “mentor” was my boss, and we had a small office, so I was with her a lot. And I watched. And learned. She dealt with colleagues, clients and HER boss with aplomb. She juggled her busy career with her family and high-profile volunteering. She was super smart and very accomplished, but she was also a ton of fun so it was an easy and natural relationship.
If you don’t have that immediate “go to person,” here are some ways to find and establish a relationship.
1. Consider What You Are Looking for
A mentor doesn’t have to just be that person two rungs above you on the corporate ladder. Heck, your company likely doesn’t even HAVE a corporate ladder. So think about what you hope to gain.
Do you want someone inside the company (or in your department) who can help champion your work?
Or, perhaps you are a female exec who wants advice on balancing work/family?
Are you a 50-something who thinks Twitter is something birds do in the morning?
Do you want to know how someone escaped the boardroom for the beach?
There are as many different types of mentors and reasons to choose one as there are work scenarios and individual needs.
2. Look Inside and Outside of Your Organization
Using the criteria above, maybe the best choice is someone outside of your organization.
Consider someone in a professional association, a former colleague, or even a counterpart in another organization whose work style you admire.
3. Make It Informal
“Do you want to be my mentor?” sounds scary. And you should have observed your potential mentor enough to know their personality. (Mine would have thought I was a nut if I said something like that!)
So, try something like “I sat in on your presentation to Client X last week and was really impressed with how you countered their questions and issues. I am eager to expand my client management skills and wondered if we could chat a little…would you have 30 minutes that we could have coffee?
4. And Short
Notice how that above request ended? Are you liable to end up talking more than 30 minutes? Probably. But committing to 30 minutes sounds a whole lot doable for your “mentor” than an hour-long lunch.
5. Come Prepared
Before your meeting, jot down 5 amazing things about yourself you want the mentor to know.
Why you are worth his/her time. You might not get to them, but if they ask about your work history, it’s great to be prepared with some anecdotes that make you look like a go-getter. Also, have some meaty questions for them. The conversation might flow naturally, or they might have some conversation topics in mind, but it’s still always better to be prepared to make the most of your time.
6. Thank Them
As soon as you get back to the office, jot off an email, something to the effect of, “I know how busy you are and really appreciate the time you took.” Mention something specific about your conversation that you intend to put into practice. Did they discuss something that you could research or follow up on? Maybe they mentioned that they had lunch with that client planned for the next week. Send them a few restaurant reviews or something that shows you were listening. Or an article you read online that pertains to a personal or professional interest.
7. Ask if You Can Meet with Them Again
Now you’re starting to forge a relationship. If you want to make it more than a one-time thing, and you don’t interact with them on a regular basis, you are going to have to make some sort of overture. After a week or so, check back in, reference the conversation and something that they said that you have put into practice and ask if you can meet again.
8. Be Mindful of Their Schedule
If they’re cool and accomplished enough to be a great mentor, they are probably super busy. Be respectful of their time, gracious if they need to reschedule and cognizant to always make it convenient for them, even if it inconveniences you.
9. Take Their Advice and Let Them Know
They want to feel as though their time is well spent and everyone likes to hear that you appreciated and took their advice. So when you are meeting, make sure to ask them how they would handle a particular situation and then do it! If their advice seems off the mark, they are probably not a great choice for a mentor, so you really should try to use the advice they are giving.
And then let them know! Say you are having trouble reaching a sales prospect through the normal channels, and your mentor recommended reaching out on LinkedIn and it worked! Be sure to let them know the success…Everyone likes to think their advice has been considered and used.
10. Return the Favor
Is there anything you can do to help them? Maybe sing their praises as a coach on a LinkedIn recommendation or just informal chatter. Don’t become their lackey, but if they need some help that you are qualified to give, it would be a nice gesture.
And what goes around comes around. Someday it will be YOUR turn to be a mentor if it isn’t already. Our next column will discuss how to be an effective mentor.
by Cathie Ericson