Mentorship has been popping up in my life a lot lately. In the past two weeks, I’ve attended the 10-year anniversary for Stanford’s alumni-student mentoring program, met with my own mentor of 16 years, had dinner with my mentee of 6 years, and volunteered to be a mentor at UC Berkeley’s Women Empowerment Day.
It was at that last event that one of the young women asked a great question: In the absence of formal mentoring programs, how do I find a mentor?
The women at the event were undergraduate juniors and seniors, about to enter the real world. And though all of them knew the value of mentorship, few of them knew how to find a mentor outside of a formal program that assigned them one.
There is a ton of messaging out there encouraging people to “pay it forward” and “be a mentor”. I see it on billboards, in tv commercials, and sometimes even in website ads. However, the fact that I regularly get this question about how to actually find a mentor leads me to believe there isn’t nearly enough material out there on that side of the topic. So here’s my effort to remedy that situation.
How to Find a Mentor
Step 1: Determine what you need help with. Mentors are basically people who can provide you with advice based on their knowledge and experience. So, what exactly do you need advice on? The type of person you seek out will differ, depending on the issue you are challenged with.
Step 2: Identify potential mentors. Are there people you already have access to who can help you or do you need to do some work to find individuals with the appropriate background? In either case, after you’ve found such people, you’ll need to test the waters. Ask them out to coffee. Take the time to build a rapport with them. See if you click.
Step 3: Be specific with your ask. Asking “Will you be my mentor?” is not the way to begin a mentoring relationship. The question is just too vague. Be specific about what you need help with, why you think this person can help you, and how much time it will take.
Step 4: Nurture the relationship. Especially when the mentoring relationship is not one defined by some formal program, it will be important for you to keep things moving forward. Be proactive about setting up time to touch base. Be the one to reach out and stay in touch.
Also, never forget that the mentoring relationship isn’t a one-way street; you have something to offer them. Consider what it is that your mentor is looking for that you can provide: links to relevant articles, connections to people they may find interesting, or a fresh perspective on an issue they’re facing. At the very least, you can give your mentor the satisfaction of knowing how they’ve helped you. Sometimes that’s all we need.