The first mistake most people make when seeking out a mentor is asking a role model to take on that responsibility. Mentoring is an enormous chore. Don’t underrate the undertaking of it. You are asking someone to take a personal interest in your development.
It reminds me of a first kiss. At least, that’s when a first kiss was a first kiss (and the US dollar was backed by the gold standard).
Ideally, you didn’t ask for your first kiss. It just came naturally, arising from the circumstances you found yourself in. In other words, better at a beach party bonfire filled with excitement when your team won the big game, than during a middle school spin-the-bottle moment in the basement (AKA you have to kiss me because the bottle is pointed at you and I spun it).
When you ask for mentoring, you are asking to be important, worthy and interesting.
You are asking to siphon off some of your mentor candidate’s natural resources. You are inquiring if this other person would like to take a chunk of time away from their business or personal interests – time that they can never get back once they spend it – and concentrate on moving you forward.
There’s a huge difference between someone who might have an interest in giving you some good counsel from time to time versus agreeing to a “going steady” relationship.
Agreeing to answer a question is easy. Committing to a regular routine is hard.
In fact, that’s the secret of getting a mentor. Like most good and lasting relationships, it starts with your asking a question. That question isn’t, “Would you be my mentor?” It’s more like, “Would you mind giving me advice on a challenge I’ve run into starting my career in the green energy sector?”
Everyone likes to give advice. A lot of people like to ask for advice, which should be good. But it isn’t. Because a lot of good advice gets squandered.
So surprise your would-be mentor. Take the advice and act on it. Then call or email the result of your actions. Ask your next question and repeat until you have a steady dialogue going.
Then, instead of asking to be mentored, you’ve actually gotten ahead and made a special someone the patron saint of your career. At some point, write them a nice handwritten note and thank them for mentoring you.
Still stuck on getting time with your role-model? You can ask to shadow someone once you’ve struck up a relationship. You might ask if you can sit in on a project planning meeting. Or an advertising strategy meeting. Or when new vendors are being interviewed. Or whatever real life experience would be really valuable for you to witness.
Make sure to report the results when you put into action what you have learned or observed. And send those handwritten thank you notes.
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen