Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to find a professional mentor

If you've read my book or heard me speak you know the #1 advice I give everyone I meet is this:

Find a professional mentor.

The next question, of course, is how. I dedicate 1/3 of my entire book on how to find a professional mentor, because the process itself changed my life. 

In fact, the most popular question I get at is how to find a mentor. While I explain it in depth in my book, I wanted to give you a quick overview to get you started.

What is a professional mentor?

  • Someone who offers you advice when you are trying to figure out what you want to do with your life and/or trying to move forward in your career. 
  • The best professional mentors will have a job that you desire to do one day. 

What are the benefits of having a professional mentor?

  • They'll teach you about what your desired job is actually like to help you figure out what you really want to do (before it's too late).
  • They'll share their story and help make the job search less scary.
  • They'll give you invaluable guidance on how to apply for jobs in your field, help you make further connections, and may even offer you an internship.
  • If you're already in your career, your professional mentor can be in another field to help you make a career change, or can give you guidance on moving up in your current field. 

Where do you find a professional mentor?

  • It's best to find a professional mentor who is doing a job you'd really like to do one day. If you work full-time already sometimes you can find a great mentor at your job, but this can be difficult when it comes to office politics. You'll usually feel more free to talk openly if it is someone outside your organization.
  • The best way to find a professional mentor is to start by thinking of at least one job you would love to do. I recommend exploring if you're unsure. 
  • Once you have the job title, start thinking about the local companies you'd like to work for that employ someone in that kind of job. Search their company website, LinkedIn, and/or a general internet search to find the e-mail address of someone in that job. Some positions are easier to find than others, but if you're dedicated, there is always a way.
  • Never underestimate asking your family and friends (e.g. Facebook status) if they know anyone in a particular job you want to learn more about. This is the #1 way connections are made, and it changes everything. 
How do you get them to talk to you?

  • Once you  have the e-mail address, send them a genuine message explaining (briefly) who you are, what makes you unique (e.g. college student, first generation, etc.), and why you admire them (be specific), and then ask if they would share their advice with you for 15 minutes in person (ideally) or on the phone. 
  • When they respond (and more will respond than you realize), work around their schedule and pick a time and place. 

What do you do when you meet them?

  • Though this sounds intimidating it is so easy. Because all you have to do is listen. 
  • Ask them how they got to where they are today, what they love about their job, what is most challenging about their job, and what advice they have for you. Notice how you feel when they talk about their job. Does it spark your interest further?
  • Take notes and thank them afterwards.

How do you keep up the mentorship relationship?

  • Thank every professional mentor you meet with, and ask them if they wouldn't mind if you e-mailed them from time to time with quick questions as follow up to their advice. 
  • If they say yes, act on one of the pieces of advice they gave you. Then e-mail them telling them how it helped, and ask another follow up question.
  • Keep this up and a mentorship relationship is born and will come naturally. 

As much as possible, always start your mentorship relationships in person. Nothing can compare to the bond that is created when you look someone in the eye. However, when it comes to keeping up the relationship, e-mail works great. 

Good luck and as always feel free to send your questions to!

And for a more in-depth look on how to find professional mentors, including an e-mail template, how to follow up, a list of questions to ask, and more, you can check out my book on

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