Who do you turn to when you need professional advice? Sure, your parents and siblings can be helpful, but have you thought about getting a mentor? Having a mentor in your industry can help you gain insight, provide advice on next moves in your career, and ultimately give you a leg-up in your field. Finding a mentor can be a bit intimidating at first, but they can have a huge impact on your career trajectory and make your working experience more positive.
Before you begin seeking a mentor, you must ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have the time to reach out, follow up, and nurture this relationship?
- Why am I looking for a mentor and what do I hope to get out of the experience?
- Why should they say “yes” to my request?
- What do I have to offer my mentor?
Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to look for a mentor. Here are four ideas to help make this a reality:
1. Look around and reach out.
You may already know the person who you want to mentor you. Think about people you already know who might fit the profile you’ve come up with. You are connected to many more people than you realize and doing initial outreach will help you pinpoint who you’re interested in. There are many ways to find a mentor.
Here are a few places ways to start your search:
- Talk to your professors who are in the field
- Look up alumni of groups you belong to at school (fraternity, sorority, business organizations or volunteer groups etc.)
- Join LinkedIn groups that are specific to your industry and college
- Go to your career center and look up alumni in your field
A mentor can come in any form and may not have the “mentor” title. Anyone who gives you professional feedback and helps you learn more about your field can be one. They should be invested in your professional growth and have extensive experience in your industry.
Maybe your favorite professor is at the forefront of the field you’re interested in. They likely have contacts within the industry and can help connect you to a potential mentor. This goes for anyone you reach out to. Even if they personally aren’t able to give you advice, they might know of someone who could help you (tip: if they’re not a good fit – ask if they have suggestions/can refer you to someone else). If you feel like it is appropriate, don’t hesitate to ask them to reach out to their network.
The opposite tactic is to reach out to professionals you aren’t connected to. Find someone who has things in common with you. They will be more likely to respond if they work somewhere you have interned in the past or are from the same hometown as you.
Your school career center can help you get in contact with professionals in your field. If you don’t have access to an alumni database, LinkedIn is a good alternative. Your LinkedIn profile should be up to date, professional, and accessible before you reach out to anyone on the site. Many schools have alumni groups on LinkedIn and you can find someone who might be eager to discuss what has changed at the school since they graduated. Industry specific LinkedIn groups are also great places to find people who work in the same field and may be great fits. However, before you contact anyone, you should first compile a list of the people you are interested in.
2. Make a list.
Just like applying for positions, not everyone is going to say “yes.” Make a list of a few people you would like to have as your mentor. Write up compelling reasons why you want them in particular to be your mentor. How you ask is just as important as who you ask.
It sounds simple, but if you don’t ask anyone, you certainly won’t get a mentor. Building a relationship before you ask them is a good idea, especially if you haven’t known them for very long. Don’t jump into it too quickly, give it time, and get to know them before transitioning it into a mentoring relationship.
Keep your request simple and specific. If you know them through someone else, make sure you mention the link between you. If it’s over email, you could say:
Subject: Engineering Advice – Melinda Lopez
My name is ______ and I am an engineering student working on a project on ______ in San Francisco. I heard about the great work you are doing at ______ through my professor, Melinda Lopez. She suggested I contact you because I am seeking engineering advice on _____ and she thought you might be a great person to ask because_____. I would like to meet you for coffee in the next week to discuss the engineering field and your experience in it. Does this work with your schedule?
Thank you for your time.
4. Maintain the relationship.
Following-up and following through are key to having a good relationship with your mentor. Get to know their mentoring style. They may want to meet for coffee once a week or exchange emails twice a month. Tailor your follow-up tactics based on what is best for them.
When you receive advice about what job you could apply for or a change in the layout of your resume take action in a timely manner. Give your mentor updates about how things are going with your job search or show them your updated resume. They are going to be volunteering a lot of time and effort, so make sure that you thank them, employ their suggestions, reach out periodically, and give back when you can.