27 September 2023

How to ask someone to be your mentor

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The Linkedin team* have gathered together the best advice on gaining a mentor from online learning courses.

Asking someone to be your professional mentor can be awkward, even in the best of circumstances.

How are you supposed to ask someone for something like that?

That’s just it: the reason asking for mentorship can feel so uncomfortable is because there’s never really been a standard procedure for it.

Let’s change that.

Professor of Management Dr. Ellen Ensher’s LinkedIn Learning course Being a Good Mentee and Bossed Up CEO Emilie Aries’s course on How to Be a Good Mentee and Mentor are chock full of helpful tips and example scenarios for making this informal professional relationship feel more comfortable and fulfilling for everyone involved.

In reviewing their advice, it became clear that these two experts developed a nearly step-by-step process for figuring out who you want to be your mentor and how to ask them correctly.

Following this system might not totally spare you from some awkwardness, but it will make sure you always know what to do next:

Consider what you want in your mentorship

“Before you connect with a mentor, you must know who you are and what you want from a mentor,” Dr. Ensher explained.

Answering some exploratory questions in your own mind will help you find a firm direction.

Why do you want a mentor in the first place? What is the goal you think having a mentor will help you achieve? What is your plan for achieving it with your mentor?

Aries suggested a three-step system for determining what you want from a mentorship:

1. Start with what you want to learn.

“Before you go looking for mentors, know what it is that you’d like to learn from them.” This can be as specific as a hard skill or as broad as simply wanting advice on how to grow your career in the future.

2. Figure out where people who know this might be and show up.

“Finding meetup groups and attending industry events is a great way to meet folks who might have the expertise you’re looking for.” When you’re at these events, look for people who stand out to you.


3. Reach out to the folks you have a “career crush” on.

“The goal is to identify folks whose careers you admire and want to emulate.”

Research mentors and networks

Even if you already have an idea of who you want to reach out to, taking the time to research more potential mentors is never a waste of time.

The information you find while looking at leaders in your industry can help you uncover new network contacts or even teach you a lot about the landscape of your profession you may not have known.

Dr. Ensher developed a four-step system for researching potential mentors that she recommends everyone follow:

1. Start from the top.

“Start by researching the rock stars or thought leaders in your organization, industry, or profession.

Look for TED talks, blog posts, books, and LinkedIn articles.”

2. Leverage your network.

Ask your network who the top people in your industry are.

3. Look for primary crossovers.

If any of the professionals you found in steps 1 and 2 are already primary contacts, they’re a great place to start.

4. Explore your secondary network: See if you have any secondary connections in common.

Have those connections set you up with an informational interview.

Start with an informational interview

Dr. Ensher advises asking your potential mentor for a no-obligation informational interview before your bigger ask.

The best way to schedule an informational interview is to have one of your existing connections facilitate it.

Let them introduce you and explain why you wanted to talk to your potential mentor.

If you don’t have any connections to your potential mentor, however, you can simply reach out explaining who you are and why you’re interested in talking to them.

Once you’ve set up your informational interview successfully, Dr. Ensher offers these four key actions for ensuring it goes well:

1. Come prepared:

“When you contact your potential mentor, you want to show you’ve done your homework.

Don’t ask obvious questions like ‘where did you go to school?’ Go deeper.”

2. Respect their time:

“A typical informational interview is 20 to 30 minutes.

If you want to extend the conversation, check in.”

3. Communicate your desire to reciprocate:

“One of the best interviews a potential mentee had with me only took 15 minutes.

His third question was ‘how can I help you?’”

4. Turn the interview into a mentoring relationship:

If the interview goes well, schedule a follow-up at the end.

Approach asking in the right way

Even if you’ve followed all of these steps, finally asking someone to be your mentor can be awkward.

Coming right out and asking, “Will you be my mentor?” might not get you very far.

As Aries noted, “It can imply a one-way benefit, which of course is not what mentorship is really all about.”

To avoid as much of this awkwardness as possible, Aries proposes this four-step system:

1. First, ask to talk:

“Offer to buy them a cup of coffee, or to swing by their office, whichever is most convenient for them.”

2. Explain what you are hoping to learn and why they can teach it to you:

“You might say something like, ‘I really admire how you leveraged your law firm experience into a nonprofit management position.

“Can I ask you about that over coffee?’”

3. Ask them the ‘why’ questions, and share your own:

“‘Why’ questions help you get to the root of people’s values.

“Why do you identify with their career? Why do you want to learn from them?”

4. Close with a clear ask:

“You might ask for a résumé review, or support with a joint project, an introduction, a recommendation, or help preparing to ask for a raise or promotion.”

Keep in touch

This is the most important step for starting and sustaining a mentorship, but it’s easy to overlook.

You and your mentor are both busy, and if you don’t both make a concerted effort to stay in regular communication, it’s easy to lose the connection.

To avoid that, Aries shared several different creative ways you can keep your mentorship active:

1. Regularly ask for specific forms of support via email:

“Ask for some feedback on your résumé, get a second set of eyes on your presentation, or talk through handling a sticky work situation.”

2. Celebrate them publicly when they hit a career milestone:

“If they produce a paper, publish a book, or get interviewed, shout them out.”

3. Send them articles or videos that remind you of them:

Tell them about why you thought of them and how the video relates to what you’ve been discussing.

4. Connect them with others:

This is a great way to reciprocate value, too.

*LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with more than
875 million members in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.

This article first appeared at linkedin.com.

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