The Value of a Mentor Part 2: Building Relationships
In our previous article, we discussed the value of a mentor and why we all need them. They are the source of decades of insights, knowledge, and wisdom which we can learn quickly if we are willing to listen.
It should be clear that being mentored is essential to your progression towards your career goals. This article will go through the technical aspects of finding and reaching out to mentors including template messages to send them for setting up meetings.
Steps to Finding a Mentor
Step one to finding a mentor is having clear priorities and goals. You have to know what it is that you want to achieve in order to ask for advice and guidance on how to do it.
Many companies and schools have existing mentor programs, at Bauer College of Business there are two opportunities:
- Bauer MBA Society Mentorship Program
- iCAM Program: Integrated Coaching Advising and Mentoring
Be sure to take the steps to make the most out of these type of programs that are already set in place. All you have to do is pick a mentor and then do what they advise you to do. This is how you bring value to the relationship, initially, by showing your mentor that they are not wasting their time with you because you are willing to do the work.
If you don’t have access to existing mentor programs that is not a problem, you have LinkedIn. If you go to the “My Network” tab, and then go to “Find Alumni,” you will have different filters that can help you find a mentor. You can also use LinkedIn’s general search.
Many professional organizations, like Prospanica and NAWMBA, have leadership development and mentorship programs also. Opportunities are everywhere around you.
Finding a mentor is actually easier than most people think, as explained above by Alejandro there are many organizations and groups that can help you. There are plenty of local groups, for example, in Houston, there is the Houston Young Professional Endeavor (HYPE), a chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA), Houston Interactive Marketing Association (HiMA) and hundreds of others.
Will you immediately find a mentor by going to events with these organizations? Not necessarily, yet the key is that you need to take the initiative.
If you do not like large events, there are other ways to find mentors. For me, I am not a large event type of person so I prefer one-on-one settings. I have found my mentors through:
- Church: perhaps there is a perfect mentor in you religious institution.
- School: in undergrad and grad school there were certain professors I connected to and made a point to attend their office hours. These meetings soon led to a deeper relationship where I was given valuable advice.
- Work: we have all worked with many talented people just as you likely have. Currently, I am being mentored by someone in my field who has 16 years of experience in the marketing field.
- Competitions: if you are in an MBA, undergrad, or graduate program - participate in a competition! I took part in multiple competitions and ended up with great experiences and a mentor who I reach out to a few times a year. He is a high-level professional at a global consulting firm.
For me, I found these people by always being open to hearing advice. It wasn’t like one day I signed a mentor-mentee contract with the above people. We started by just talking, finding time to meet, and then gradually setting aside longer periods of time where I would ask for insights and advice.
It really should be an organic relationship as cliche as that sounds.
Steps to Build the Relationship
Ok, you found a mentor. Now what? This concept of mentors was new to me when I started my MBA journey. But I quickly understood that I’ve been getting the advice of great mentors for years because I was reading great books. A mentor is no different than that, so I understood that the key parts of building a relationship with a mentor are:
- Be willing to listen
- Asking great questions
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear”. - Zen Proverb
Being ready for your mentor means that you have to take ownership of the relationship, and make it as easy as possible for them to guide and support you.
A tactic that has helped me set meetings with mentors is to write great emails and invitations. This template is something I’ve been working on for a year, and I’m sure that in another year it will probably be better.
It was great meeting you at [place]!
Thanks for a great conversation about [topic]. Given what we discussed, and that you have built a successful career in [area of interest], I wanted to ask for your advice. My goal is to [state your goal], and I would appreciate if you could share with me your thoughts on what my next steps should be.
I understand that time is scarce, 10 or 15 minutes of your time will be very valuable to me. We could meet for coffee.
Given that you are available, please let me know if any of this options is convenient for you:
- Day A, Time A
- Day B, Time B
We could meet at [coffee location near to their office] (this is research that you have to do, with LinkedIn and Google it is very easy to know the location of someone’s offices)
I understand if at the moment you don’t have the time to meet. (I always take the pressure to say yes away from them in case that they don’t want to do it, you don’t want to meet with someone that doesn’t have a mindset of helping others. It will be a waste of your time and their time. I haven’t received a negative response so far.)
Alejandro I. Sanoja
One of the best skills you can learn in life is understanding people’s preferred communication channels. Below are some scenarios on how I built relationships with my mentors.
Mr. Text King: This person does not do email, but will text for hours on end. If you have this type of person, do not get discouraged when they don’t respond to emails. Participate in their preferred communication channel, i.e. text them questions, ask for books/articles, and try to set up times to meet in person through text messages.
Mr. Old School: Many of the professors who mentored me helped me become a college instructor by the age of 27. Think about that, I was teaching courses with 100+ students and had no idea what I was doing, I needed help! I routinely asked for advice from a seasoned professor who thought email was “passive aggressive.” Instead of emailing, texting, or even calling I would just show up at his office and ask him questions. Sometimes we would talk for 3+ hours, and you know what? I was quickly comfortable being a college instructor because of his advice.
Mr. New School: I have a great mentor who is teaching me how to speak to clients, write proposals, push back on scope-creep and other aspects that consultants deal with daily. He lives in another state but is a master of technology. We communicate through email, text, Basecamp, Google Chat, and phone - essentially whatever is the most efficient. A trick I do is simply text him early in the morning and ask if he has 15 mins to speak that day. He will reply with a time and boom I have a 15-minute window to receive valuable insights.
Mr. LinkedIn: There is one person I reach out to about four times a year. The above people would be considered more “traditional” mentors as I have spent a lot of time with them in-person, yet sometimes our best mentors are those who share wisdom occasionally throughout the year. I message him through LinkedIn, he is a high-level professional so I make sure that when I contact him it is infrequent and my questions are well-thought out. I keep a list of items I need help with and only ask him the top 1 or 2 that are really a struggle. Generally, I receive a response in less than 24 hours and am amazed at how elegant his solutions are to my problems.
The overall point is that once you find a mentor, the pressure is on you, not them. You are the one seeking guidance, do not make them work hard to provide advice. Quickly determine their communication style and utilize it accordingly. Do not force a mentor to communicate how you would like to, instead, be smart and reach out on their preferred channel.
How to Give Back
The first thing, and probably most important thing, that you have to do is to take action.
If you have reached out to a person because you want them to become your mentor it means that they are successful. Their time is very valuable and they don’t like to waste it. Make the most out of the advice and insights you get. Track your actions, progress, and show results.
Imagine you are a customer to their coaching, become a great testimonial to them.
There are also other very easy ways in which you can give back:
- Write a recommendation for them on LinkedIn
- Endorse them for skills on LinkedIn
- If they have a business and use social media: Share, Like and Comment on their posts
These are all activities that you can do right away, and they will appreciate it.
And then you can always be a mentor to someone else. If you are in grad school, you can be a mentor to someone in undergrad or high school.
As you are reading this, the idea of mentorship can sound overwhelming.
- You have to find a mentor
- You have to develop the relationship
- And now you have to give back!
I am tired just thinking about it, yet when you see mentorship as a lifelong cycle it is not as difficult as it seems. This cycle will run your entire life. You will have different people mentor you throughout your life and at some point, it is time for you to pay back what you have received.
If you are reading this then you fall in the demographic where someone looks up to you!
Seriously, it might be high school students who see you as inspiration, undergrads who want to be like you, or it could even be people older than you that want to work in your industry.
The point is that we all have people we look up to just as we have people who look up to us. I know it sounds crazy, but your story inspires someone who wants to be like you and you don’t even realize it.
When you do understand that concept it is time to give back.
- Go to an event and let people approach you
- Answer the email of the person who wants to pick your brain
- Buy someone coffee when they least expect it
- Call someone you know who looks up to you and tell them you have a breakfast open to see if they would like to join
- Volunteer with a non-profit organization
- Write your story and publish it online
If you are an MBA, graduate student, undergraduate, or professional you are successful. Further, if you reading this you are likely one of the top 1% wealthiest people on the planet! It is my view that we are responsible for helping others based on our privilege.
Congratulations you successful! Now go help someone and repay what has been given to you, the world is desperate for mentors, and you have so much to give.
People are constantly looking for tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to success.
Developing a mentor relationship is something that will considerably cut short your road. It doesn’t mean it will be easy. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to do work. But it can really help you be more efficient and effective in the way you use your time and focus.
In the previous article, we shared the mindset and strategy needed to find value through a mentorship relationship. Now you also know the first steps you need to take. You are ready to go!
This is your chance, find a mentor, take the Red Pill: