Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

Want a Mentor? Don’t Make these Rookie Mistakes


I was listening to one of Tim Ferriss’s excellent podcasts the other day, and he made the comment that the best way to guarantee someone won’t mentor you is to ask them directly to be your mentor.

That sounds counterintuitive. But here’s why it makes a lot of sense.

Mentoring someone in a formal way requires a lot of time. Scheduling meetings, making introductions to others who can help, answering questions in person and by email – these activities can all add up to a big time suck. If you’re a highly visible expert in your field, extra time is your most precious commodity. Putting aside the concept of paying it forward, why give that up to someone you don’t even know?

If you’re in need of mentorship, and everyone is at some point in their career, you need to bring your A Game. You need to get informed and creative, and avoid turning the concept of being assertive into being a pest. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Do you want a mentor or a sponsor? A mentor can be anyone offering you advice. A sponsor is someone who takes you under their wing to help you advance within your organization.

  2. Figure out exactly what you want a mentor to do. Answer a few questions? Make introductions? Review a presentation? The more you can spread these tasks around, the easier it will be to find people to help.

  3. Think about how you can reciprocate. Millennials, for example, have a number of skills that older generations can use. Offer to help with social media or Powerpoint presentations, or put together a chart in Excel. Your target mentors will appreciate it.

  4. Volunteer to help out at a professional event in your field of interest or join a committee at your professional association. Your goal is to take on tasks that others are too busy for, and little by little work your way up so you become trusted to assist in more visible areas. Think about giving a lot of yourself before you ask anyone for anything. Ferriss tells the story of how he volunteered for months at a Silicon Valley professional association, ultimately organizing a panel discussion for key players and getting to know at least one of them personally – an experience that became instrumental to his success.

Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, Ryan Holiday and others have written extensively on focusing on up and comers for mentorship instead of going for the boldfaced names currently in the limelight and I’m sharing some of their best practices for doing so.

And lastly, Ferriss shares an example of the right way to ask for help from a well-known personality who can open doors.

To be successful at attracting potential mentors, it’s important to be strategic as well as sensitive to the demands on others’ time. If you lay the groundwork properly and educate yourself about your field of interest in as much depth as you can, you’ll be viewed as someone who has something valuable to offer – and who deserves a seat at the table.

Do you agree? Disagree? Have any mentoring tips of your own? If so I’d love to hear from you!