How to Ask Someone to be Your Mentor – Dos and Donts

How to ask someone to be your mentorI am republishing this article with new content as my learning on how to ask someone to be your mentor has evolved. 🙂  Hope you will find it useful.

We all need formal and informal mentors to help us grow and learn.   Young professionals have more of a need for formal mentors.   Seasoned professionals needs more a broader network, but not necessarily formal mentors.  It’s more helpful to have “Board of Advisors,” a group of people you know and can go to for specific advice.

For younger professionals, asking someone to be your mentor can be daunting. Half of the battle is actually making sure you don’t chicken out and decide not to do it because of xyz. Even though it can be scary to ask someone to take on this role, remember that people are usually flattered if they are asked to help you guide your career.   There are many ways for young professionals to ask someone to be your mentor.  Here are some dos and don’ts that may help:

Do…

  • Communicate what you respect about him/her – It shows that you know why you would like them to be your mentor. Genuine praise also goes a long way. Try to find “deep” reasons that demonstrate that you’ve really thought about this, instead of shallow ones. A deep reason could be something like this: “I really respect how you handle work life balance while holding such a senior position.” A shallow reason sounds like this: “I want you to be my mentor because you are successful.”
  • Communicate your situation and how their mentorship can help – People become mentors because they are inspired by the passion and potential of those they mentor.  Share where you are headed with your life and career, and why their experience/advice can help.
  • Actually ask the question – “Would you consider being my mentor?” – Some people shy away from the question and can leave the other person confused.  If the person is a stranger, perhaps start with coffee instead of asking the question outright.  People only become mentors when there is personal rapport and mutual respect.   First ask to see if you can meet or call them once, and then see if you can build rapport with them.  You also don’t want someone to be your mentor just because they have cool experience.  You want to inspire them to care about where you are headed.
  • Communicate what type of mentor relationship you are looking for – This includes both the type of advice/feedback you are hoping to receive, and how often you hope to interact (once a quarter, every month, ad-hoc, etc…). Many people are happy to be mentors, but are also very busy people. Clearly articulating what kind of relationship you want to build with them will help them decide if they want to take this on.
  • Listen and adapt to their response – Very likely this person will be happy to be your mentor, but may counter about the frequency of communication. Just go with it.   If they say no, don’t be offended, People are very busy.  You can then see if they would just be open to you reaching out for advice again.  Sometimes people feel pressured to agree to a “formal mentor” role.  This doesn’t mean they do not ever want to meet with you again.  They just cannot commit.  Respect their decision.  As long as they agree to meet again, they are actually still informal “mentors” to you.  Be thankful.
  • Follow up – It’s up to you to make it easy for others to help you. If this person agrees to be your mentor, he or she would still expect you to take the lead, figure out how best to communicate, and proactively build the relationship over time.  If this person didn’t agree to be your “formal” mentor, but agreed to you contacting them in the future for specific advice, then it’s up to you to be proactive and arrange that next coffee or call and be specific. Share what advice you need and why you think they can help you.

Don’t…

  • Expect a yes response, and don’t take it personally. You have given it your best shot. If the person cannot fit it in their schedule or didn’t agree to even another call, then it won’t work anyway.
  • Assume what’s convenient for them. Everyone works and interacts differently. Ask them what’s the best way to keep in touch, how to best approach them when you need advice, and then follow what they say.
  • Wait too long before asking. Timing will help your cause. If you just recently worked with them, and you want them to be your mentor, then ask them soon.  This way, they still have a strong impression of who you are.
  • Ask strangers where you have no connection.   SI have been asked to be a mentor via comments on my site, email, or my facebook page.  It’s very hard for me to say yes as I have close to half of million readers a year on my site.  I look at myself more as a mass mentor via my articles and Soft Skill Gym offerings.

As you get more senior in our career, informal mentors are more likely and needed than formal ones as your need for advice will change.  It will be hard for any one person to guide you well.  You actually need to lead yourselves and then reach out to different people for specific advice in different areas.  Your need for advice can vary greatly.  For example,

  • How to effectively lead a team with different level of competency
  • How to deal with a merger that affects your department significantly
  • How to balance life and career and ailing parents
  • You have money now, but are not happy. How to be happy in life?
  • Can you change careers in you 40s?
  • How to transition to a smaller company from a Fortune 500 corporation?

This is where developing networking skills with senior executives is critical.   You need to network to build relationships with people you respect.   They can then become your “Board of Advisors” as you learn to navigate a more complicated career ladder.   They don’t need to know they are on your “Board of Advisors” per se.  Instead, these are folks you respect who are willing to give you advice and guidance.

Your comments: Do you have mentors in your life? How are you building your “Board of Advisors”?  I look forward to your comments.

Like this article?  then help me out by sharing it on Linkedin, Email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.

New to my site? then start here – Soft Skills – How to Succeed like an Senior Executive

See you at the top! I am always in your corner

Lei

12 thoughts on “How to Ask Someone to be Your Mentor – Dos and Donts

  1. ICW

    I found this article to be very helpful, I would like to know your thoughts on reading a letter that I’m currently writing to my potential mentor and giving me some advice?

    Reply
    1. Lei Han Post author

      I am glad you found it helpful. You can send me the letter by email at lei@bemycareercoach.com. My initial reaction however is why are you writing a letter to your mentor? Usually building a mentor relationship requires a more personal interaction – a call or better face to face. A letter seems a bit impersonal. I equate it to “asking someone out on a date by letter”

      On the other hand you can request a meeting by letter or email. Good luck

      Lei

      Reply
  2. Eszter

    There’s a saying in Hungarian: “Rabbit shoots the hunter” – for people who criticize others and making worse errors.
    Dear Grant: the first letter did not need to be capitalized as it was not starting a new sentence, but following a comma.
    And yes, making such a blatant mistake as confusing their and there… sorry Grant, but that IS an indication of sub-par education.
    And you made another error: “It’s hard to believe you have the education listed in YOU bio…” How about “your bio”.
    It’s hard to believe you have any education.. ;))
    Manners, you don’t…

    Reply
  3. peelc

    R. Grant-
    Don’t be so mean. Your spelling isn’t up to snuff either; e.g. “The first letter in the sentence isn’t capitalized and their is no punctuation.”
    It should be “The first letter in the sentence isn’t capitalized and THERE is no punctuation.”

    Reply
  4. Lei Han Post author

    Ashley,

    Glad my article helped. I think the best mentors are the ones you personally know a little and those who know/care about you.

    I wish I have time to be many people’s mentors but unfortunately I don’t. This is why I created the website to help people even if I can’t do it one-on-one personally.

    Best wishes,
    Lei

    Reply
  5. Gwen

    Hi, I enjoyed reading your article and it has given me courage to look for and approach a mentor. Wat I did wonder was wat are the boundaries as to how high up the heirachy one can go in chosing their mentor. And does having an influential mentor eg, ur team leaders boss or the operation managers boss not get considered as favouritism shld u get promoted.

    Gwen

    Reply
    1. Lei Han Post author

      Gwen,
      Sorry for my very late response. I completely missed your comment until now. In case it still helps, go as high up as it’s possible for you to find a mentor. Remember, the higher up you go, the less likely he or she will agree to be your mentor as their time is tight and you have to inspire them to care about you to want to mentor you. If you did find rapport with someone high up and vice versa, then go for it. It’s in your advantage to have a senior mentor. Everyone should try to build out their network of supporters and mentors. Those who do are working smart and gaining the most career advantage.

      Some people may say this is favourtism but frankly it just sounds like they are upset that they didn’t have the same connection as you. As long as you didn’t force anyone to promote you and did anything under handed to get promoted, then what you actually did is invest the time to build relationships with the right people and as a result being recognized for the good work that you do. Pls let me know if you have any other questions

      Lei

      Reply
  6. Lei Han Post author

    I am glad the article is helpful. That is my only goal and priority with this blog. I have a full time job, two kids, and I write these articles on this blog and in my newsletter in my free time. I either can strive to be perfect and write less posts or none at all and help less people or I can write more posts and not worry so much about small issues like grammar mistakes as long as my advice still helps. I consciously choose the latter.

    It sounds like my advice still came across and that’s good enough for me. I think part of being an executive is knowing how to prioritize and what is important.

    I am happy to receive help from anyone who wants to edit my articles and share with me their suggested corrections.

    Lei

    Reply
  7. R Grant

    I would like to start by saying that this article contains really good tips on asking someone to be your mentor. However, the article is riddled with poor grammar and punctuation.

    I had copied the information for one of my classes, but quickly realized that I had to go back and correct many of the mistakes.

    For example, the last sentence of the second DONT, ” and then follow what they say”. The first letter in the sentence isn’t capitalized and their is no punctuation.

    It’s hard to believe you have the education listed in you bio and you would write an article of this quality.

    Reply
  8. leslie

    thank you for this! I have recently requested a PR VP to be mine, off the strength of this article, we will see how that goes so standby!! 8*)

    Reply

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