You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Learn the best way to approach a potential mentor, and what to say.
- Many proteges fear approaching potential mentors because they worry they're bothering them or wasting their time. I want you to try to let go of that fear. My research has found that people who serve as mentors are overall more successful than those who do not serve as mentors. I'm going to share tips to help you approach a potential mentor with confidence and grace.
To begin, consider the best way to reach out to a mentor and specifically, what to say. Here is a poor example of a real email I received from a potential protege. Hey, Ellen, I decided to contact you to seek as much advice, info, help, energy from you that I can possible get. I would like to pick your brain in the next few days. I have come to a point in my life where I want to transition as I'm sick of the nine to five grind.
I'm only 28 and have spend a good part of my life incarcerated, so I'm not sure of my next step. Can you please mentor me? Thank you, Jack. Let's deconstruct how could this be more effective. First, avoid using informal language. Never start a professional email with, hey. Instead, use the proper form of address. If you don't know what someone likes to be called, then err on the side of formality. For example, it's always safe to address a woman as miss and a man as mister.
Second, be specific when contacting a potential mentor. Say something like, I'm contacting you to learn how to break in the human resources. Third, communicate that you want to give and not just take. Avoid saying, pick your brain. This phrase feels like you're interested in taking and not giving. Instead, say something like, I'm hoping to share ideas. Fourth, use self-disclosure gradually.
In this example, Jack shared that he had been incarcerated. This is tricky. While I applaud his honesty, since we didn't know each other, I would recommend not sharing something as personal as this right away. Fifth, ask for a short meeting as a way to connect with a potential mentor. In this email, I was directly asked, will you mentor me? It would've been better to have asked, can we meet for 20 minutes, so I can learn from your background.
After you get to know each other and the relationship develops, then you can ask directly about becoming your mentor. Now, I want to share a good example of reaching out to a potential mentor. Dear Professor Ensher, I'm reaching out to you as I attend the same church with your colleague, Stacy, and she recommended I connect with you. I would like to talk to you as your research in diversity and mentoring is very similar to what I'm interested in. I would love to share ideas about my graduate work in diversity.
Would it be possible to meet over coffee or schedule a short phone appointment? Thank you so much, Diane. I had a really positive feel for Diane, who applied all five ways of being effective and we did get together for coffee. Remember, when you reach out to a mentor, be like Diane and be polite, specific and reciprocal.