How to Select & Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor

Avatar: Jim Kidd
  • Jim Kidd
May 27, 2020

“Choose your mentors based on who you want to be. Mentors can reflect where you want to go, they can create access for you, and give you guidance as you plan your own personal development.” – Ranu Gupta

Having a mentor offers many positive benefits, including helping you develop new skills, speed up your progression at your company, and gain insight into how to navigate office politics. But in a sea of professionals, how exactly do you find an amazing mentor and convince them to help you? Here are seven tips to help.

1. Make a List of Potential Mentors

Choosing the right person is probably the biggest factor as to whether or not they’ll accept your request. Most people want mentors who exemplify their vision of success: well-known business leaders, entrepreneurs, developers, and activists. Chances are though, those people are busy or unavailable, so don’t be surprised or take it personally if they say no.

Instead, make a list of “ordinary” people whom you respect and feel comfortable speaking freely with. They don’t have to be a household name in order to be a good mentor. Anyone with experience and wisdom you can learn from can make a great mentor. The important thing is that they’re someone you trust and whose constructive feedback you’re willing to integrate with an open mind.

2. Consider Someone Who’s Not on Your Team

While you can find mentors in your direct chain of command (e.g. your manager or your manager’s manager), it’s best to have someone outside of your team mentor you so they can supplement the guidance and development your leader is already providing. 

3. Make Your Request in Person

Asking someone to be your mentor is very personal, so it’s best to do it face-to-face or at least over the phone instead of email. If you have the opportunity to chat over coffee, you can better state your case and address concerns if any arise. 

4. Explain Why You Want Them for a Mentor and What You Hope to Gain from the Experience

Share why you’re specifically asking that person to be your mentor. You don’t have to stroke their ego, but it is important to demonstrate that you respect who they are and value their expertise. One way to do this is by sharing a story of theirs that resonated with you and what you learned from it. Or, you could explain how their career mirrors your desired career path and what you would like to learn from them. If you have other interests or hobbies in common, be sure to mention them, but be clear that what you’re looking for is advice and guidance, not a new best friend or someone to do your work for you.

5. Come to the Table with How Much Time and Attention You Think You’ll Need

Provide a realistic estimate of how much time and attention you think the mentoring relationship will require, being sensitive to the fact that your prospective mentor is likely busy with their own projects. It may also help to suggest a format. For example, you might request meeting an hour for lunch every other week. 

6. Don’t Push

If you get the vibe the person you’re asking feels uncomfortable or pressured by your request, back off. If you force them into it, you won’t get the best experience anyway. It’s better to go back to the drawing board and consider someone else who is fully committed to helping you out.

Once you've landed a great mentor, do what you can to keep the relationship strong, and remember that it's as much about what you put into it as what the mentor brings. Thinking through and articulating what you want to learn from the experience as well as what you want the format to look like will demonstrate your pro-activeness and professionalism. It will also help you and your mentor recognize when you’ve reached new milestones toward achieving your goals.