Want to find a mentor? It’s a lot like falling in love—it doesn’t happen overnight and it you may have to kiss a few frogs before finding “the one.” If you’re ready to find a mentor you’ll love, approach the search like you would dating, and you’re likely to have success.
Step 1: Hunt
When dating, you hit the bar, search a matchmaking site, or ask friends for a setup, all in an effort to explore your options. When finding a mentor, the professional world becomes your dating pool.
When you go to networking events or read industry publications, who most impresses you? Who are the people you admire? Whose brains would you most like to pick? Start a list and don’t be afraid to think big. The worst that can happen is you get shot down.
You can consider people in your own field, but you may want to stick to those who are more established than you so as to reduce the worry about them stealing ideas or clients from you. It’s also okay to look outside your field. The goal is simply to find someone who thinks strategically, asks great questions, and has had some measure of success.
Step 2: Call
After ranking your wish list of mentors, begin at the top and research your own networks to find common links for an introduction (LinkedIn is perfect for this). Just as a you’re more likely to go on a blind date arranged by a friend you trust, these folks are more likely to accept your invite if they first learn of you from someone they know.
If you don’t have a common link, you can either continue down your list until you find one, or cold call (or email) your top candidates. Get creative, or follow this great guide from The Muse for crafting this conversation. Don’t be disappointed if the attempts go unanswered, but wait to move on to your next choice until you’ve gotten a rejection or you’re sure you’ve been ghosted.
Once a potential mentor responds, ask politely for a meeting over coffee (your treat) and promise not to take more than 30 minutes.
Step 3: Woo
You’d never bring up marriage and kids when asking someone on a first date. Likewise, arranging the first meeting with a potential mentor is not the time to ask about formal structure.
Instead, tell the person you admire them and their career (make it clear you researched them) and would like to pick their brain. You don’t know them well enough yet to be certain they’re a fitting mentor, and they don’t know you well enough to commit to an ongoing relationship.
After your first “date,” analyze the meeting. Did you leave feeling inspired and motivated? Did the potential mentor ask insightful questions? Did you get actionable ideas? If so, there’s potential in the relationship. If not, move on to another candidate. Keep up this process through as many mentors and dates as needed.
Step 4: Propose
When you’ve spent enough time with someone to know they are exactly what you want in a mentor, it’s time to pop the question. After thanking them for the time they’ve already given, ask if they are willing to put structure around what is already an informal mentoring relationship. Ask for regular meetings, action steps (ie, homework), and accountability.
It’s unlikely you’ll hear ‘no’; they probably wouldn’t have continued to go on so many dates with you if there wasn’t a spark for them, too.
Word of warning: This process may help you see that mentor monogamy isn’t your style. You may realize you prefer to have several go-to advisors for different needs, or that you simply prefer being a serial dater who meets with as many smart people as possible to learn from a wide variety of sources.
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