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Early Career

Four Tips for Finding a Mentor

I’m not sure where I first saw the book Will You Be My Mother?, but the title makes me laugh out loud. It reminds me of a conference keynote in which Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox, revealed that she doesn’t always share her contact information because she gets a lot of young women asking her to be their mentor. No introductory note, no reminder of how she might have met them, no details on what kind of mentorship… just “Will you be my mentor?”  I’m not sure if I found it funny because 1) I have been asked the same question with little context from the requestor, or 2) I was a grown, professional woman so intimidated by Ursula Burns I was reluctant to approach her, let alone ask her to be my mentor.

Countless books and research have detailed the benefits of mentorship for younger professionals, both in terms of career advancement and psychosocial functioning (in other words – feeling confident and competent about the job you are doing). While some mentorship is formal – a program requiring an application, an assigned pairing, and maybe even meeting subject topics – other mentor pairings just happen organically. I would bet, however, that almost NO mentoring relationships started with a context-free request “Will you be my mentor?”

How should you approach a potential mentor?

  1. Schedule an initial conversation. When reaching out, make sure the person knows how the two of you met.  For example, just because you heard someone speak during a career panel doesn’t mean they would know you were in the audience. Tell them that you heard them speak and why it made an impact on you.
  2. Clearly describe the guidance you’re seeking. Don’t just ask if someone will “mentor” you – be specific about how you would like their help. Do you want career advice in a certain industry, you want to know more about how important they consider graduate school, etc.
  3. Confirm your willingness to do the necessary work and follow through. Mentors are there for advice and support, not to do the work. Follow through on the actions they suggest you take – whether it is reaching out to someone or rewriting your LinkedIn profile statement. Do not forget to keep mentors up to date on how you did take action on their suggestions and what the outcome was.
  4. Acknowledge and respect the individual’s time. Please remember to say thank you!

Of course, mentorship is a critical part of career progression, but it’s not everything. Want to learn more about securing mentors, as well as allies and sponsors? Please explore our website to learn more about all of the programs that Forté offers. Together we can reach the goal of #morewomenleading.

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