By my mid-30s, I had achieved more in my professional career and in my personal life than I ever thought possible. But my success didn’t come easily. The obstacles I faced early in my life once seemed insurmountable. We all need support and people who champion us throughout our lives. In a professional capacity, this often comes in the form of formalized mentorship programs set up by corporate sponsors or entities, but as I look back over my corporate career, my strongest relationships were actually created organically. The experience of working together, being candid and honest, or helping one out in difficult situations forged that close mentor relationship. But sometimes, in lieu of waiting for things to fall in place organically, we need a little jumpstart. I’ve put together a list of five tips for starting a relationship with a new mentor. I know, it can feel intimidating, and the fear of rejection is very real. But give it a shot, you may be surprised at how open people are. Find me on Instagram and comment below, let me know if these tips help you get rolling. I can’t wait to hear from you!
1. Make the ask.
According to the Harvard Business Review, 76% of people believe that having a mentor is critical to success but only 37% have them. Why the gap? “…it’s because most people are afraid to ask for that initial meeting,” says author Janet T. Phan. “The fear of rejection is real and it’s even more amplified during this pandemic.”
Here’s another piece of advice that I heard over the years that’s really stuck with me:
Let other people tell you no.
Perhaps you decide not to approach a potential mentor because of fear of rejection. Or maybe you think they’re too important or busy to pay attention to you. Even if you’re just feeling general anxiety about the whole thing, it’s more likely a projection of your own fears, rather than hesitation on the part of your potential mentor.
Try reaching out via email with a specific question or goal, like a Zoom coffee date or practicing an upcoming presentation for a client. Taking the first step is the start to many beautiful relationships.
2. Get to know your mentor.
A mentor/mentee relationship can start to feel like a one-way street. You make a lot of asks, and your mentor gives a lot to you along the way. To counter this paradigm, consider forming an actual friendship! Get to know them, ask questions, find interests you have in common. You’ll find that the strongest relationships are built on trust, on commonalities, and on mutual understanding. This takes work, so roll up your sleeves and put in the work!
Here are some sample conversations starters to get things rolling:
- What is a difficult lesson you learned early on that you carry with you to this day?
- What are you most proud of?
- How can I help you? Who do you know that I might help?
- What are you most excited (or nervous!) about for this coming year?
3. Track your growth.
Formal mentorship programs often come with rubrics and criteria for measuring success. You’ll be asked to check things off the list as you achieve them, when you go to that conference, or when you learn that new skill. This type of construct can feel awkward in an informal mentorship, but alternatively, it can be a useful way to show how much you value your relationship with your new mentor. Think of something you’d like to achieve, a milestone you’d like to reach, or a new skill you’d like to acquire throughout your relationship with your mentor. This can help both of you frame your relationship in the beginning, it gives you topics to discuss, and it helps your mentor look for resources that might be helpful for you.
4. Return the favor.
In the spirit of mentorship being a two-way street, there may come a time in the life of the relationship where you can offer support, guidance, or help for your mentor. Don’t hesitate! Make that networking connection, send that email, or offer your support. Though they may seem older, wiser, more experienced than you, they’re going to need your help or insight at some point. Be open to it and offer it up freely!
When the opportunity arises at a new company or in a new role, be open to mentoring someone yourself. You have so much to offer, and your insight and mentorship might just be the key to someone else’s future success.
5. Stay in touch.
Mentors can be career- and life-long champions, if you put in the work to maintain those relationships. Stay in touch, check-in with them, and be present with and for them.
Though emails are a great way to stay in touch, don’t forget about snail mail. It can be incredibly touching to receive a personalized thank-you note, holiday card, or just a “hello!” in your actual mailbox. It shows your mentor how much you value the relationship by taking the time to pick out a card and write a heartfelt greeting.
Years later, you’ll look back on the relationships you forged early in your career and you may just find that it’s those relationships that have gotten you to where you are today.