Making the Ask: How to Approach Someone to be Your Mentor

After you have pinpointed the perfect potential mentor, the next step is arguably the most nerve-wracking part of the whole process: making the ask

All of the work that you have put into recognizing your professional goals, searching for someone who can help you achieve them, and making sure you are at the best potential mentee, has all been leading up to this. In order to make sure your efforts are not in vain, it is of paramount importance to move through certain steps when making the ask to your potential mentor, which will make you appear more appealing as a mentee and increase the likelihood of receiving a yes.

Schedule a Meeting

This first step may seem obvious, but it is important to approach your potential mentor in person if possible instead of over email, and with advance notice vs walking into their office in your spare time. Of course in the time of COVID, in person meetings are less frequent, so a video chat would also do the trick. Reaching out and scheduling an appointment in advance based off of their schedule shows organization and thoughtfulness. Odds are that the individual you have selected to be your mentor is a busy professional, and while they may also have a good professional relationship with you personally, it always helps to consider their time constraints ahead of your own. You are about to ask a favor of them, so do your best to let them know you care about their response. Additionally, on the off chance you do not already have some sort of professional relationship with your selected target, it  will increase your chances of a positive response to meet up a few times with them before having the mentor discussion.

Depending on your existing professional relationship with the person you are going to ask to be your mentor, you may want the setting of your in person meeting to be more casual or more professional. An example of a more casual setting for the ask to take place at would be a coffee house or at a restaurant. If this is the selected location, it is recommended that you offer to pay for your potential mentor. A more professional setting may be their office or a board room. The location of the meeting is important in conveying your intentions and will set the tone for the mentorship when you receive a yes. Above all, it is important that you both are in a place that makes you feel comfortable to speak about your shared future. 

The Meeting Itself 

Once you have a time and place selected, it is time to prepare for what you will say and how you will approach the topic of the mentorship.  Have a plan when going into the meeting, in some cases, practicing beforehand as though you were going to give a presentation may be helpful in making sure you say all that you want to. When formulating your thoughts, it is recommended that you do not simply come out and say that you want them to be your mentor right away. Instead, spend some time talking about where you see your professional trajectory headed, then explain why you think a mentorship in this stage would be helpful in cementing that trajectory. Next, explain why you chose them as a potential mentor, whether it be because of their role in your current professional life, their experience in a field that you wish to be successful in, their willingness to support you in the past, or a combination. If you convee how valuable you find their expertise to be in a clear way, you are more likely to receive a positive response. 

While you are having this discussion, it is important to read your potential mentor’s body language in addition to what they are saying in response. If they appear to be unsure or uncomfortable with the notion of being your mentor, it is best to step back and continue your search. Mentorships are a 2-way street; both mentor and mentee must be committed in order for the mentorship to be as effective as possible. Hopefully if the person declines to be your mentor, they provide some valid reasons for their decision that will help you understand what to look for in a potential mentor in the future. Be gracious for their time and thoughts no matter their response. 

Follow Up

As is with any job interview, your work is not completed when the actual meet up is over. A follow up is necessary, and these can take multiple forms depending on the proximity to your potential mentor. The 3 most common are a letter, an email, or a call/ quick in person conversation. The best time for a follow up is within 1 to 3 days after the initial meeting. Following up indicates continued interest in pursuing the mentorship as well as thoroughness, respect, and professionalism. It is often a good idea to allow the potential mentor time to think on your request, and following up with them about the meeting provides a perfect opportunity for them to share their thoughts with you. 

In following up with your potential mentor, it is important to gauge their comfort level so you can be sure to find the right way to approach them. Avoid any large gestures like gifts, or projecting that you both had this discussion to those who are not involved either on social media or even just discussing it in your workplace. Discretion is the safest form of action, you have done your part and preparation, now it is time to let the potential mentor determine how they wish to proceed.

There is no one right way to approach someone about becoming your mentor. Much of your course of action will be determined by your personal professional relationship with the individual. Bottom line is that mentorships are a huge step in reaching your professional goals, and everyone who you approach will understand that, recognize how driven and ambitious you are,  and appreciate you for considering them to be able to step into that crucial role. 

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