Do you want a mentor?
Besides networking, one of the most common pieces of advice doled out to young professionals is to find a mentor. Working with an experienced and seasoned business veteran can go a long way to helping you navigate the trials and opportunities of your early professional life. They can give you feedback, share their observations, and alert you to possible missteps in your professional life.
One of the biggest challenges to finding a mentor, though, is in the finding part. It can be difficult to uncover someone who has experience and knowledge to share, the time and willingness to share it, and a personality that you can connect with.
Because of this, you might be floundering in your mentor search. While you shouldn’t stop looking, there is another tactic that can provide you with many of the benefits of mentorship right now.
Distribute Your Mentorship Search
Expand your search beyond looking for one person to mentor you in every area of life and business. Instead of one main mentor, the goal is to distribute the mentoring responsibility between a variety of mentors that you can follow and model for specific skills and experiences.
There are a number of advantages to this:
- You don’t have to find someone that can help you with everything, they just have to exhibit one of the attributes that you are looking to improve.
- You don’t have to ask someone to commit large amounts of time or attention. Even a cup of coffee or lunch every other month can be a huge help.
- You can find new mentors as your needs change and evolve.
So where can you find these people?
The goal is to think of your network as a source of distributed mentoring. You spread out the mentoring load among a number of people within your network. In some ways, everyone in your network is a possible mentor, because there is always something you can learn from everyone you meet.
But the goal is to use your networking as a search for the handful of connections who exhibit mastery of specific areas that you want to improve. In this way, your networking activities have the added benefit of being part of the search effort for mentorship and guidance.
Approach Your Network for Mentors
To approach your networking as an opportunity to leverage distributed mentors, there are a few specific steps to take:
1. Identify what you need help with.
It’s good to key in on 3-5 specific areas that you are looking to improve. These might be concrete skills like how to sell, speak in public, or analyze data. They might be business skills like navigating office politics or how to manage time. They could be general life skills like how to manage time or relate to your co-workers. When you know where you want to grow, it will be easier to identify people who could help when they cross your path.
2. Continue to build your network
This quest for mentorship creates additional incentive for reaching out to create new connections. To find possible mentors, you have to meet more people. Continue to engage in all of the activities that you are using to build your network, but remember to keep your eyes open for those who exhibit mastery in the areas you are focused on.
3. Recognize people who could help
When possible mentors cross your path, pay attention. You don’t have to shout at them, “You are good at something I’m not, teach me!”, but do make a mental note to yourself. It might not be something that stands out when you first meet, but as you build relationships with people, you will notice what their strengths are.
4. Ask them to help
Once you recognized their experience and have built the foundations of a relationship, you can ask something like: “One of the things that I’m looking to get better at is ______. And that is something you are really good at that. I’d love to get your feedback on ways that I could improve. Would you be OK with getting us together over coffee, and me asking you some questions?” They might not be able to help you because of other commitments, but try for that first meeting and see where it goes.
5. Follow up
When you meet someone who fits the bill and they agree to help, stay in touch with them. Put the effort in to maintain contact and keep the relationship going. If you first conversation goes well, as to follow up with them in a few months for another coffee or lunch meeting. That’s part of your job as a mentee.
6. Take action on their feedback
Your other responsibility is to engage with their feedback and do something with it. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they suggest, but if you want to grow and mature as a professional, it makes sense to listen to people who are where you want to be. And it’s going to be frustrating to your mentor if they share some of their hard-earned experience and knowledge and you do nothing with it.