Today I heard from a lovely new connection on LinkedIn , who responded to a recent post I shared about Why Your Job Search Has Stalled Out. He asked a question I hear frequently from professionals who know that mentorship is important to their careers, but don’t know how to achieve it.
“In my pursuit of THE job (not just any job), I have so far addressed all your recommendations but mentorship. This is the stage where I have stalled out. I have found many professionals that have shared my dreams and are now big successes in the industry, but find myself hesitant in approaching them and asking for help. These hesitations may be due to me not wanting to come across as needy, but I think they mostly stem from lacking the trigger words that would inspire acceptance of such a request. I really need help in this area and humbly ask for your help in the follow-through of this job hunting step.”
I’d love to tackle this question, because so many people I speak to are struggling in their approach to finding mentors, and are ending up disappointed, angry or confused.
Below are the top 4 tips I can share about finding fabulous mentors, and making the most of the help you receive:
1. There are no “trigger” words that will help you get mentoring from a stranger. Don’t bother.
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First, it’s critical to know that, to find great mentors, you don’t want to reach out to strangers. That’s not how you’ll find them.
Sheryl Sandberg, in her book Lean In, likens asking strangers to be mentors to the behavior of the main character in the favorite children’s book Are You My Mother? The book is abouta baby bird that emerges from its shell in an empty nest, and goes in search of its mother. The little bird asks everything it sees (a kitten, hen, dog, cow, steam shovel), “Are you my mother?” The answer is always the same. “No!” This is just like a professional asking a stranger, “Will you be my mentor?”
“If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”
Instead, find great mentors through the inspiring people you’re already interacting and working with now. They need to be people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential – who know how you think, act, communicate and contribute. And they have to like, trust and believe in you already (why else would they help you?). They also need to believe with absolutely certainty that you’ll put to great use all their input and feedback.
Strangers (especially people in the media and the public eye who’ve become “huge” successes, as the individual above mentions) will virtually always have to say “no” to mentoring requests from strangers. Why? Because their time is already spoken for, and they’re drowning in similar requests. Secondly, they don’t have a relationship with you, and therefore can’t know how you operate or if it’s a great investment of their time to help you.
Find your mentors among the people you know who are 10 steps ahead of you in your field, role, or industry, doing what you want to, in the way you want to. Connect with new people who you can help, and who will find it a mutually-rewarding and beneficial experience to support you. If you don’t know of any inspiring people that fit this bill, you need to go out and find them. Here are some great tips from Kerry Hannon about finding a mentor, and from Judy Robinett about networking that generates amazing results.
2. What can you do to get on the radar of strangers whom you admire?
Don’t ask for mentorship, but follow their work, and be helpful and supportive. Give, and give more. Tweet out their posts, comment in a positive way on their blogs, share their updates, start a discussion on LinkedIn drawing on their post, refer new clients or business to them, and the list goes on. In short, offer your unique voice, perspectives, experiences and resources to further the action and conversation that these influencers have sparked. Understand that you are able to be of service to them, and go out and do it.
3. Be someone who is enjoyable to mentor.
The third piece of attracting empowering mentoring is in how you operate in your career and your life. Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn, and committed to modifying how you’re interacting in the world so you can have even more success, reward and happiness?
– Be great at what you do – while this sounds obvious, it is the most important thing you can do to get noticed.
– Ask for more responsibility – be sure to have specific ideas for how you can contribute in deeper, more expansive ways. Be creative/think outside the box.
– Don’t be a wallflower – participate in all meetings even “optional” ones. Volunteer to represent your team on important department or enterprise-level initiatives. Prepare ahead of time so that you can meaningfully advance the discussion.
– Promote the success of others – your generosity and openness are critical to your success, and will be remembered.
– Build your support network – reach out to groups within your company and outside your line of business. Learn what they do and how you can help them succeed.
4. Put yourself in a potential mentor’s shoes.
Finally, whenever you’re in a quandary about how to get help from someone, put yourself in their shoes. If the tables were turned, what would you want to see from this individual asking for help? If you were inundated with requests for help every day, what type of person would YOU choose to assist, and why? Go out and become that person that others would love to support and nurture.
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Here’s the bottom line: The answers to all your networking and career-building questions aren’t as far away as they seem. They’re right inside of you. Just understand that you have much more to offer than you realize. Imagine yourself in the shoes of those you deeply respect and admire, who’ve had fabulous success in the same ways you want it. Then imagine your “future self” already achieving this tremendous success. Ask your future self what to do. And always conduct yourself — in life and in work — as one who is doing all that’s necessary to attract (and offer) fabulous, high-level help and support.
To build more career success, take my Career Success Readiness quiz and visit The Amazing Career Project.
Gallery: How To Find And Use A Mentor