Mentorship can be an amazing accelerator for your career. A mentor can share their SIWIKE “Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier”. The information they would have liked to have known when they were in school. For you, that SIWIKE is often stuff you didn’t even know you needed to know. And for all the importance placed on mentors, no one ever taught me how to find one. So I thought I’d write this article for your benefit.
Find What You Want To Be Mentored On
Although it might not be apparent, a mentor does not have to be knowledgeable in all subject areas. They might not be that gray-haired retiree. Why not ask for guidance from a senior student who is only a few years ahead of you in your program? Ask them questions about what their keys to success are and the courses they took. Were they in any clubs or participated in volunteer work? Learn about the experience they gained, books they read, the content they consumed, and people they met along the way. Whatever you want to be mentored on!
A recent grad that has a job you want after graduation. What did they go through to get their job? Do they like the role—why or why not? What is the most challenging part? What were their keys to success?
A seasoned professional with 5-10 years into their career, or one who is 10-20 or more years into their career, may have a lot of advice to offer. What are some things they wish they knew earlier? What advice might they offer you in your current situation, given that it might be different from when they were going through it?
All Of The Above
I encourage you to have a variety of people to seek guidance from. The diversity of opinions may be helpful as you make your own decisions. Keep in mind that you do not have to limit yourself to a single mentor. You might want to have all of the above as mentors. You could ask each of your mentors the same questions for multiple perspectives. Some of those perspectives might be the same. Some of those perspectives might be totally different, which can open your eyes to new opportunities.
Create what my friend Hamza Khan @hamzak calls his “personal board of directors”. You might have someone be your mentor for finance, for relationships, for technical work, for recreation, or for whatever else.
Consider finding mentors such as (but not limited to) a:
- Senior student: Someone with your degree, a few years ahead of you that could help you navigate school. They may also provide insights into their career future and how it could align with yours. Learn and choose to do more or less with your academic life based on their advice.
- Professor and/or TA (teaching assistant): They are teaching you their technical knowledge and hopefully are open to sharing some career and life wisdom.
- Recent alumni: Someone that you would aspire to be after graduation. Someone with the job you want.
- Experienced alumni: Someone further along in their career path that you could see yourself relating to. Keep in mind that these may be people who were in your shoes and kept on the typical path or have explored different career pivots.
- An interesting person on a totally different career path: Having alternate and opposite points of view and experiences can be eye opening.
- (Distant) Family or friend: Sometimes people close to you can be sources of learning if you turn the conversation to their careers.
- Books, authors, or content creators: You don’t have to meet them to learn from them!
How To Find That Mentor
Once you’ve determined what you want to be mentored on, you’ll want to find someone that fits your criteria. LinkedIn is a good resource because you can search for them with a few keywords. You might need to buy the premium package to get access to the filters you want, or you might not.
Alumni websites can be useful if your school makes contact information available. Sites like 10 Thousand Coffees can be helpful as they have HUBs around different areas that make finding people easier. Company websites might be useful, depending on whether they publish profiles and offer contact information to the public. If none of these work, try good-old-fashioned networking events.
Let’s say you find someone on LinkedIn. Take a look at their profile and see what common elements you two have. School? Interests? You should send them a personalized note with your connection. Something to the effect of:
“Hi Luki, I am wondering if I could ask you a few questions on your career path?
I saw that we both went to UT Scarborough and noticed that you worked at Deloitte as a consultant then switched to start your own business. Those are things I would like to do in my career and would love to learn about some of the decisions you made in the process.
Take care and hope to hear from you!
Obviously you need to adjust the message based on the person, your common connections and your interests. Then send the connection request. It’s best to have zero expectations that you will hear back, why? Because you’re not entitled to a response. Also, this ensures you will not be disappointed. I often say that “if you connect with 10 people, 6 will ignore you, 3 will say no, and 1 will change your life”. I don’t really have scientific double-blind studies for those numbers, and they do outline the fact that you shouldn’t have expectations for every message you send, so by the same logic you might have to message 10 people in order to ask 1 for advice.
Engage In Conversation
Ask questions, and, ideally, think about how you could add value to them. Make sure that throughout the interaction, you don’t mention having them become your mentor. Why? There is a lot of extra responsibility for someone to take you on as a mentee. Most people are more than willing to provide some guidance here and there without making it formal. I relate it to dating in the sense that if you asked someone to marry them after the first or second date, they would probably be put off. If the relationship continues over time, then you can be mentors/mentees without having to make it official.
How To Relate To Your Mentor
A conversation with a mentor isn’t necessarily different than any other conversation. Although at first, you might feel a little intimidated by the interaction. After all, you picked this person because they have accomplished a lot and/or has what you want to accomplish. So you might feel/think, “why would this person want to speak to me?” You’d be surprised, as many people want to give back. And most people are willing to speak about their favourite subject: themselves! Perhaps it’s a bit ego stroking, but if you get words of wisdom out of it, that sounds like a win-win situation to me!
I’ve also mentioned that you should add value. How do you do that? You might think that you are a student and they have X years on you, what could you possibly do to help? There are typically 4 things:
- Experience: You might have had different experiences than they did. Your knowledge and skills with tech or pop culture, or something new, could be of value to them.
- Connections: You have met different people. Perhaps you met someone that could help them and you could connect them together.
- Resources: Perhaps you found an article, podcast, video, tool, service or something else that could be of benefit to this person.
- Time: At the end of the day you have your time. You could invest the time to research something for them or do something that could be of assistance.
One exercise I like to suggest is, for every sentence they say in conversation, ask yourself, “how could I help with that?”
You might find that you can’t think of anything at that moment. You might also discover that thinking about it later can shed some light on something that could be of use to them. It doesn’t have to be immediate. And as you do it more and more, you’ll find that you are able to be of further help—finding your value.
Pretend They Are You In The Future
They are you 1, 5, 10 years from now. They have somehow time traveled and made it into the past to visit you. What questions would you have for them? Other than winning lottery numbers and such… What about how they made a decision to go from company A to B? When they were at the same school, company, or shared the same interest as you, how did they make that decision? Did they also consider options A, B and C just as you are going through that decision yourself?
A typical way to carry a conversation is to simply be interested. Ask for more details about what they said. Clarify questions. Often times, if you can ask about the emotion surrounding the event, decision or whatever you’re speaking about, then they will be more engaged.
Listen, Do, And Follow-Up
By listening, doing and following-up, you are making yourself “mentorable”. As you connect with your mentors, they will provide guidance. Make sure to note them down either in a notebook or mentally. Then, most importantly, make sure you do what they suggest! It seems obvious, however, if I were to catch up with someone that I spent 30-60 minutes providing my useful guidance to, and found out they didn’t do it, what do you think the likelihood is that I would want to continue providing that advice? Not that high. On the other hand, if that person did as I suggested, and they came out to let me know whether it worked for them, I’d be more than happy to provide further guidance and insight.
I would also encourage you to be proactive with the follow-up. You should be the one reaching out to them and letting them know how you are doing. Additionally, it gives you an opportunity to reconnect and receive more mentorship.
“Hi Luki, I just wanted to send a quick note that I read the book you suggested. I found it to be very helpful. Especially the part about <put something personal here>.
How are you doing and what’s been keeping you busy recently? Would you want to grab a coffee to catch up over the coming weeks?
Let me know. Thanks
Something like that. And better yet, if you can follow up with your own suggestions on how you could be of help to them, that would be much more impactful. Remember the exercise of “how can you help with that?”, spend a few minutes thinking about how you could be of assistance. Because you definitely can, you just have to get better at identifying those opportunities.
Be A Mentor Yourself
You read that right. One great way of becoming a better mentee is to take on a mentee of your own. By being a mentor, you can experience what it’s like to be a mentor. See the relationship from your mentor’s perspective and what you might want from a mentee. And yes, you do have something to offer. Your knowledge and experience would be helpful to someone. You just have to let them find you. That’s it! Go find a mentor! Go be a mentor!
And have more career success as a result.
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.