It’s guest post time 🙂 This week I have Bennett Garner discussing how to find a mentor, which is something that everyone knows is important but many of us (myself included) have failed to ever actually do. As an entrepreneur, it’s even more important because there often isn’t a clear path forward or an obvious next step and a mentor can help you figure out who you need to talk to and what you need to do to make your business a success. With that, here’s Bennett:
I recently emailed my mentor about a negotiation I had coming up. He responded right away and his help was invaluable. In just a few sentences, my mentor helped me decide WHAT to prioritize and HOW to go about tackling those projects. He had been in similar situations before, and when I felt out of my depth, he was there to help me out.
I replied to thank him for his help, and he sent me one final piece of advice:
This article in Forbes argues that having a mentor is one of the key factors to success in career and business and the Small Business Administration reports that mentors contribute to a business’s chances of success. In my case, being connected to my mentor has led to warm introductions to 6-7 important leaders in my industry, and that’s just one example of the benefit a mentor can provide.
Most of us understand the value of a mentor, but getting one is the hard part. In this article, I want to share with you some tactics and frameworks to land terrific mentors. It may seem hard, but I’ll give you word-for-word scripts on how to talk to potential mentors. Starting a business or making a career move is difficult, and having help from someone who has been there before can make all the difference.
So, first things first, how do you identify potential mentors? Start with the people who already know you and care about you. I’d begin with coworkers and former bosses and move from there to rabbis, coaches, or even gym buddies. The idea is to find someone who already likes you and for whom it wouldn’t take a lot of convincing to start mentoring you.
A big note here: mentorship is not permanent. You aren’t married to your first mentor. You should expect to get newer and better mentors as your career/business continues. It’s a big myth that you’ll stay with only one mentor, when more often mentorship is like a relay race. Any mentor you regularly meet with is better than no mentor, so pick someone easy, who you already feel comfortable talking to, and ask for 15-20 minutes of their time to pick their brain about some questions you have. You can send an email like this:
Great seeing you at the roundtable event last week. [Replace this with your own compliment]
I wanted to see if I could get 15 minutes of your time to pick your brain about a few business questions I’ve been having. I know your advice would be helpful. I’ll come to you, and I’ll buy the coffee.
What do you think?
Once you’re ready to talk with a potential mentor, spend most of your time asking questions! It’s easy to want to “unload” onto someone with your challenges and whole story. Instead, in order to learn from your mentor, you’ll want to mostly be listening. Get to know them better. Ask about their story. Aim for listening 80% of the time and talking 20% of the time. Here are some good questions to get you going:
- “How did you get your start in (insert industry)?”
- “Looking back, how do you think about your decision to get into (industry)? Would you do it again?”
- “I know you moved from [or stayed at] x company. What prompted that decision?”
Use these to get you going, then ask great follow up questions involving “why” and “how.” Only at the very end should you ask your question, and you should limit it to 1-2 questions the first time. Be sure as well to be respectful of your potential mentor’s time and end right when you said you would. The last thing in the conversation, you should ask to meet again, like this:
“Derek, I want to be respectful of your time and let you go. Your advice has been super helpful. I’d love to get together again sometime, maybe in a month, to talk more and let you know about the progress I’ve made on [insert thing you talked about].”
If they say yes, then congratulations! You’ve started receiving mentoring. It can be, and usually is, this informal at the beginning. Once you and your mentor are receiving value, you can formalize it into a regular meeting every month or every quarter.
Good luck with your mentorship search, and let me know in the comments how things go!
Bennett Garner runs comfortableconversation.com, a guide to getting your dream job. Visit the site to get access to scripts for growing your network, and a 7-step finding a mentor plan.