Ask Jo: What’s the best way to approach a mentor?

Question: I am interested to know what the best way is to approach a potential mentor. Is it through personal connections or ‘cold calling’ via email?

Answer: Cold calling? I admire your moxie! But I don’t recommend approaching someone you don’t know and asking them to mentor you. Here’s why: You need to warm up to the relationship and build some trust first. If they don’t know you, they won’t feel comfortable giving you the no-holds-barred, honest feedback and finely tuned advice that you’re looking for.

Plus, if you introduce yourself to someone for the first time and in the same breath, ask them to be your mentor, it’s too much, too soon. It’s like getting down on one knee and asking for someone’s hand in marriage when you’re on a first date.

A better approach is to start by requesting a twenty minute informational meeting.

Here’s how to ask:

Let them know that they are someone you admire, and ask if they’d be willing to schedule a twenty minute informational meeting to answer some career-related questions.

Here’s why it works:

You just flattered them. People like that.  And, you only asked for twenty minutes. Most people, even busy ones, can set aside that amount of time, and if they can’t — just let it go. They’re too busy.

But let’s say they agree! Now you’ll need to prepare to make it a great conversation. Think of at least four career-related questions you could ask them. Here’s an article on four types of questions to ask that will pretty much guarantee that it will go well, and be a mutually beneficial discussion.

Be respectful of their time and the twenty minute slot you requested. Even if it seems like they want to keep talking, don’t assume that’s the case. Ask if it’s OK to go over time.

If the meeting goes well, let them know. Ask if they would be interested in meeting again on a regular basis (quarterly, for example.) If they say yes… you’ve got a mentor!

Jo Miller

Jo Miller is a globally renowned authority on women’s leadership. She’s dedicated two decades to helping women advance into positions of influence by leveraging their leadership strengths. Based on her work with hundreds of thousands of women, she developed a pragmatic and powerful roadmap that guides women to become the leaders they aspire to be. Jo shares this proven process in her book Woman of Influence: 9 Steps to Build Your Brand, Establish Your Legacy, and Thrive (McGraw Hill, 2019.)

Jo is CEO of leadership development, consulting and research firm Be Leaderly. Learn more about her speaking engagements at www.JoMiller.com and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.

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