How to Connect with a Mentor (Design your Own Apprenticeship Part 3)

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In a previous post, I outlined how you can plan for a mentorship / apprenticeship to learn a new set of skills or change occupations or industries. Finding and setting up a mentorship is a key part of creating your plan. Here’s how to get started.

If you’ve followed the advice in the previous post, you’ve already created a plan with a specific set of skills you want to master, prioritizing those that are most important to your future success. I also assume you’ve taken an objective look at your current skill set and experience to see which skills might be applicable and transferable to your occupational goals. It’s worth the time to list them, along with a realistic assessment of your level of expertise (basic, intermediate, advanced, or expert.)

Now you’re prepared to reach out to mentors who may help you learn. Here’s some real talk about what you’ll be facing:

  • Your best bet is to meet potential mentors at a networking event, where they’re already in networking mode and open to conversation. Here’s some more real talk: a mentor must feel a spark to be willing to work with you. He/she must like you and be genuinely interested in what you’re trying to do. It’s a bit like the dating scene in that way; if you don’t both feel the spark of interest, the relationship is probably going nowhere. You’ll need to be at your sharpest, most likeable, and oozing positive energy. You’ll also need to read body language and other signals carefully. Try to find a mentor who is open to connecting with people and has a true passion for what she does (and for passing on her wisdom.)
  • Your second best route to meeting a mentor is to attend an event where their work has been featured. Get a card, or find contact information later from the event host or LinkedIn. His objective in being present or working the event is to gain more contacts, so it’s natural to hear from new fans. Reach out with an email to say how you admired his work, state your objective (“I’m hoping to become a published author, and I’m trying to learn from local successful authors”) and ask for that 30-minute meeting or phone call. It helps if you’ve taken the time to introduce yourself at the event and compliment his work, so he has a face to go with the name.
  • Many people will think they’re too busy to help you learn just for the sake of doing (you) good. Your first approach must be very specific and limited to just a short meeting. Offer to buy coffee or talk over the phone, if you think they’ll be more likely to agree to meet that way. Your initial request should be for a brief (30 minutes or so) meeting to ask some specific questions about the industry or skills you’re hoping to acquire.  (“Is it more important to master X or Y skill?” “Is it worth the investment to get the ABC credential?” “How did you get started on your current career path?”)
  • It will be up to you to use your time with your mentor well. Be efficient with your questions, and don’t forget to be generous with your thanks. Be ready to explain why you chose him as your mentor (“You have the kind of strong voice and clear writing style that I hope to master some day”) and start out asking for small bits of feedback rather than an open-ended relationship. “Could you take a look at this blog post? Maybe we could spend a few minutes on the phone at the end of the week where you provide feedback on how I could improve it.” Make it easy to say yes to small interactions until you have established a relationship.

Make it easy. Make it quick. Make it worth their while.

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