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Judging from the social media profile, it looks like a match. You both share similar interests and experiences. Her posts are both funny and informative, giving the impression that you can laugh and learn from her. She has the experience you don’t (but need). And the best part is that there are mutual connections in common to provide an introduction. So should you ask this person to be your mentor?
Few people question the value of a mentor, but studies show that most workers—54% in one survey—don’t have one. And the pandemic and remote work has only made it harder, of course, given the challenge and awkwardness of trying to find one virtually. “There’s an element of tact needed when approaching someone regarding a potential mentoring relationship,” says Korn Ferry Advance career coach Joshua Daniel.
With vaccine programs expanding quickly, and firms reopening hiring budgets, experts say having a mentor remains one of the best ways for employees to get ahead. But it takes time to find the best ones, whether inside or outside your firm. Below, some advice for finding, approaching, and selecting a mentor.
Create your profile.
At the most basic level, identifying potential mentors should be based on the relevance of their background and experience to your own career goals. So before reaching out to anyone, take inventory of where you are in your career and what void a mentor can help fill. Experts say mentees need to know where they want to go before mentors can help them get there.
Cast a wide net.
People often look to their managers for mentorship, which can be great when it works out and horrible when it doesn’t. Experts advise casting a wider net, both for a different perspective and to avoid conflicts of interest. Look across your entire organization, not just in your department or functional area, for instance. But also look outside your organization. Look on LinkedIn or through alumni networks, or even among family and friends.
Make it about them.
It’s a truth universally understood if not acknowledged: people like talking about themselves. When reaching out to make a connection, focus on the other person’s career. Highlight work they’ve done that caught your attention, for instance, or suggest an article related to a recent social media post of theirs you thought they might like to read. Find something in their career path or profile that impressed you, says Daniel. “Identify something they do very well or have been really successful with and ask if they could tell you more about it,” he says.
Don’t dive right in.
Worse than having no mentor is having the wrong one or a bad one. The first person you reach out to may not be the right person for you—nor the second or third. It may take time and a few conversations with a few different people before mentees find a relationship that feels right.
Play the field.
People tend to think of mentoring as a monogamous relationship. But there’s no rule that says you can’t have more than one mentor. In fact, Daniel advises having multiple mentors based on the different elements of your career that you are looking to develop. One mentor may be more related to your functional area, for instance, while another may help you develop leadership skills or advise how to navigate the organizational structure. “You may not find one individual who has walked the exact path you are trailblazing,” says Daniel.
Be selfless, not selfish.
Understanding that mentoring is essentially unpaid support in the form of time and effort for your development. Approaching the relationship from the standpoint of what you want to get out of it is destined to result in failure. Experts say the most productive relationships are ones where the mentee offers tangible ways to reciprocate support and provide objectives that will help the mentor learn and grow as well. “Showing consideration for the other person can help make the ask more approachable,” says Daniel.