Networking contact or Mentor? That was the question posed in yesterday’s blog post. We discussed the differences between the two and I promised to offer some thoughts as to how to ask someone to be your mentor.
I want to start off by alleviating any fear of rejection from my readers, asking someone to be your mentor is usually met with a very positive response. At one level, it is an honor to be asked to provide insights and advice to another person, and at a secondary level, it is an incredible ego-trip (someone thinks I am worthy of being a mentor!). So do not hesitate in asking a trusted colleague about a mentoring relationship.
Qualities of a Mentor:
Carefully consider who you would like ask to join you in a mentoring relationship. A good mentor should know you (personally or professionally) AND feel comfortable in delivering good and bad news to you. This may eliminate some potential mentors whom you are considering – think about how you would react if the person delivered a negative assessment about you and/or your work performance. You may not want a mentor who knows you too well or who you interact socially as he/she may bring some biases about you into the mentoring relationship.
Mentor candidates should be someone you trust and respect as you need to be comfortable in opening up to the person and must believe the advice the individual provides is of value. Good mentors usually are also good listeners – if the mentor talks incessantly in your meetings, you may need to evaluate if this person is truly being helpful in a mentoring role. Finally, if you are creating multiple mentoring relationships, vary the type of person you ask – it is good to have mentors from varied experience levels, industries, backgrounds, expertise areas, etc. Having mentors who can look at your issues through different lenses will allow you a variety of opinions to consider.
- Set up a 15-20 minute face-to-face meeting with the individual and let the person know you would like to discuss the possibility of a mentoring relationship.
- Plan out ahead of time – what will you say, what will you ask for, what are your expectations, what are you willing to commit to, etc.
- At the meeting, state why you want a mentoring relationship, in what area you believe the other person can help you, the expectations you have of the person, and what you commit to doing, and a time in the future for you both to evaluate the relationship.
When I made my most recent mentor ask, I set up a face-to-face meeting with the individual, Paul, and stated that I wanted to discuss the possibility of a mentoring relationship. At the meeting, I began by stating why I was interested in having a mentor, what area I believe I needed help in growing my skills and how his expertise seemed to align with these needs. Finally, I laid out the expectations I had for him (4 meetings per year, 1 hour each; honest feedback; willingness to meet; taking an interest in developing my skills) as well as the areas where I was willing to commit (I would be responsible for setting up the meetings, providing an agenda at least a week prior to the meeting, following advice he provided, being open to suggestions, etc.). We agreed that after four meetings we would evaluate the relationship and our other commitments (work/personal) and decide if we wanted to continue the mentoring relationship.
I should note that the mentor does not need to be local but I believe there needs to be regular face-to-face interactions. A friend of mine has a mentor who moved away but still comes back to the area 5-6 times a year on business. The mentor always makes time for my friend during his visits (cup of coffee, a meal, an hour long meeting) in order to continue their relationship.
While the “Ask” conversation may seem a bit formal, it is an important step to take as you need to align expectations with the other party. Some people may be willing to meet once and are willing to help you to a certain level, but do not want to walk with you on your career path as a mentor will. Setting the expectations up front will increase the chances that the mentoring relationship proves fruitful for both sides.
Good luck creating your mentoring relationships.