eople often talk about the numerous benefits to having a professional mentor, a sort of someone that takes you under their wing and guides you, if you will. It is praised as an asset that helps you launch and maintain a successful career and grow personally. Yet, despite how advantageous this relationship can be, you rarely hear people talking about how one goes about finding a mentor. And, not everyone has one.
You probably just assumed you would come along one naturally as a direct result of being a student, like being an athlete who has muscle – appearing gradually out of nowhere but an expected side effect of your identity, the status quo. The answer is yes and no. You may know someone that unexpectedly stumbled into a mentorship through their involvement in extracurriculars and the community, but if you're reading this, you’re probably not one of those people. And if it’s any consolation, more than 4 in 10 US workers haven’t had a mentor. So, you’re not alone.
Whether you’ve had a mentor before or not, making it through college and thriving in a particular career field are two very different things, and as such you may need a different mentor for each. At this point in your life, as you move further away from the familiarity of life as a student and into the adult, career-driven world, you’re going to need someone to navigate you through this uncharted territory.
But, finding a post-grad professional mentor that helps you meet your career goals, advises you, and plays the role of a work wing-man is no happy accident. So, where do you find Mr.Miyagi or Yoda in the real world, in your professional world? Stay seated, we are about to reveal the secret to finding a professional mentor, touching on these key parts:
- Where you should start
- Looking to your inner circle
- Looking at people you work with
Where to Start
Before you set your sights on a professional mentor target and go for the kill, you’re going to want to do some introspection. Ask yourself: What do I hope to gain from this? Would you benefit from workplace advice that helps you get that promotion you’ve been pining for or that raise you’ve set your sights on? Are you looking to branch out into a new discipline, career, or sector and would like to find more information or network with more people?
Do you need to develop your executive skills or your technical skills? Are you a budding entrepreneur looking to gain insight from someone who’s been there and done that? Whoever you are and wherever you're at, keep that in mind because this will determine what kind of mentor has the biggest impact on you.
You may also want to think about what type of help you are looking for and what type of commitment you need to make. Can your goal be achieved within a short time span or will it require a long term mentorship? Time will be an important issue. Many of us don’t have a lot of time, and your future mentor is no exception.
With this in mind, expect to use shorter amounts of time, wisely and usefully. Also, know that asking a mentor to dedicate a ton of time right off the bat may be a little off putting. Instead, you may want to work up to it. That being said, the most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for a mentorship is contemplate what you will need and be honest about it from the start and come prepared.
Where to Look for A Professional Mentor
Finding a mentor seems like a daunting task, but if you know where to look and exactly what you want, it can be very easy. The key here is to be confident and proactive. There are many people that would be more than happy to help you. After all, everyone had to start somewhere, even those who now hold positions you aspire to be at. Keep that in mind the next time you get cold feet about asking for help.
Start With Your Inner Circle
With this method, you don’t necessarily need to start a relationship from scratch. Think of the people you already know. Are any of them skilled in the areas that you hope to grow in? Do they work in the same industry? Do they have your dream job? If so, you should definitely reach out via email or phone call or whatever you deem appropriate given the type of relationship you have.
You don’t necessarily need to propose a formal mentor/mentee relationship. As long as you make it clear you would like their help moving forward and they make it clear that they want to help and will keep the line of communication open, you have yourself a mentor whether you label it or not. So, if they agree, you’re in luck and you need look no further. However, if you do a mental checklist of the people you know and none of them are qualified to give you the advice and assistance you need, then your search may require more involvement.
Is there someone at work whom you admire? Someone you aspire to be like who has personal values that align with your own? Reach out to them. If you know the person well, this doesn’t have to be a formal request. However, if your relationship is more distant, formal, or non-existent - for instance if they work in a different department - then you’ll want to begin with short and sweet email:
I really admire your work (or your career trajectory, or whatever it is you admire). I would love to hear more about X, Y, and Z and get your advice on X, Y, and Z. Would it be possible for us to (have a quick video chat, or grab a quick coffee)?
In this email, share one or two things you admire about their work, then tell them a little about yourself, why you’re reaching out, what you would like to learn from them, and wrap it all up with your question. Framing it around a short meeting means it is low commitment and they are likely to say yes, no matter how busy they may be.
This first meeting allows you to gauge your chemistry and see if they’d be a right fit. If all goes well, you can introduce the possibility of a recurring meeting, and eventually a schedule of meetings to chat. The worst that can happen is the person is too busy to take you on or it is not the right fit, but either way you’ll never know unless you try. Besides, the person you ask to meet with may know of someone else that may be an even better professional mentor for you.
So, maybe no one you know off the top of your head is eligible to be the type of mentor you need. You will then want to look outside your inner circle, to your network. Many students graduate - especially post-pandemic - not really knowing how to network or what it means to network. Networking, at its core, is finding a friend of someone - a connection - that can help you in some way, in this case a mentorship. So, if you're looking for a mentor, then make that known. Get the message out. Cast a wide net and see what you catch.
Tell your family and friends that you’re looking for a mentor. They may know of someone that would be the perfect match. Alternatively, you can turn to social media platforms, to either search for connections or get the word out. For example, you can go on LinkedIn and check out the alumni from your college. You can then filter by type of job, position, or company with a simple search. The chances are great that there is someone who graduated from your college who now has a career that you are hoping to shine in. It is also likely that they would be more than happy to help you and steer you in the right direction, as they had to have once been in your exact same position.
Here’s an example of a adequate LinkedIn message:
Anthony, I noticed we both attended [insert college] and your professional journey really stood out to me. I recently graduated and am very interested in building my career as a [role]. Since you’ve been in that position, would you have some time to offer me a bit of advice on pursuing this? I would really appreciate a brief call at your convenience.
Of course, this message is merely an example and can be tweaked and edited according to what you actually hope to gain and how you would like to chat. Nonetheless, it gives you an idea of how to go about reaching out to a potential professional mentor.
Another route you can go is by using Facebook’s Mentorship Groups. Let’s delve into how it works. On Facebook, you can be part of a group, or a place to build and foster supportive communities around specific topics. For instance, you may have been a part of a group on Facebook centered around your graduating class, finding roommates, or your sorority/fraternity.
This is just a glimpse or sliver at all of the groups offered on Facebook. Within these groups, there is an admin who can offer a mentorship program whether it be career advancement, skill development, or encouragement and support, to name just a few. As a member of the group, you can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee and the admin will pair the two together. You and your mentor can share and comment on posts, messages, or of course take the mentorship offline. The best part is that you and your mentor progress through a guided program that encourages you to check in with one another weekly, so albeit an online pairing, there is no ghosting.
If groups aren't up your alley, there is no shame in using your social media to blatantly ask for a mentor. Someone who is following you or is friends with you may see the post and know of just the right person, but without your post they would have never known to connect you with their contact. It’s amazing the response you get just from asking for help through a platform that allows you to be heard and gives you reach beyond what you realize possible.
Professional Networking Events
Professional networking events may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of finding a mentor but prove to be valuable in doing just that. For students and recent grads, there are a myriad of career fairs and networking events which have long been held on campus, but are more frequently becoming virtual. Depending on how you go about it, networking events can either be a catapult in the right direction or a waste of time.
If you wander aimlessly and sign up for different events willy nilly, you will find it to be the latter. But, if you are intentional with your selection of events, such as by doing your research and knowing that someone you admire will be there, then your experience will be more meaningful and might even land you the perfect professional mentor. As a recent grad, this may be one of the first professional networking events you’ve attended and you may find yourself tense. To ease your nerves and better prepare you, here are a few tips:
- Take a deep breath – networking is just making friends with someone who you’ve already cyberstalked.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it is a compliment to ask someone for advice, and people know graduates need it, so don’t waste the moment.
- Plan your introductions according to the peak-end rule – a person’s impression about an overall event is shaped largely by how it ended, so save your most important introduction for last.
- It’s all for nothing if you don’t follow-up – you only keep connections if you follow-up and keep in touch, and it is a very bad look to only reach out when you need something.
After graduation, when many things are up in the air and your future seems foggy, it can be that much more frustrating to learn that there is not one clear path that leads to a professional mentor, but many. Nonetheless, it’s important to steer the course because having a professional mentor can be life-changing. Albeit an investment, what you get out of a great mentorship is far more valuable than what you put in.
Rather than thinking of it as work, think of it as socializing about your professional interests. The rest will come easy. If you shy on the side of introversion, your approach may be different. You may want to study a person and then ask them something specific to your interests, maybe even keep your relationship online. Whatever route you take, be true to you, be confident, and don’t let a couple of roadblocks stop you. Give yourself a pat on the back because seeking out a mentor is an important step and not always an easy one.