It used to be that you only had to dodge questions about whether you had a significant other at family gatherings, but nowadays you get to work and everyone wants to know about the status of that othermust-have relationship. Do you have a mentor? What kinds of things do you do together? Does your mentor have a friend who can be my mentor? Maybe we could all double sometime.
OK, I’m exaggerating slightly. But there is some truth to the fact that people spend an awful lot of energy finding this very special person because they’re “supposed to.” Then, once they have one, they think: “Now what?”
Don’t get me wrong: Having a combination advisor, friend, and powerhouse in your professional corner can be the absolute best. But finding one is only the first step. Next you need to build the relationship. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
Do Figure Out What You Want
Mentoring comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s not all meeting for coffee and reporting back. In fact, some pairs may never meet in person and only stay in touch over email. That can be great if you’re super busy—and not so great if you have trouble expressing yourself in writing.
The fellowship program I managed had a mentoring component, and we had potential participants (on both sides) fill out a survey where they selected their ideal relationship. People could choose how often they’d like to be in touch, how they’d like to be contacted, and why they’re interested in the relationship—whether it’s to connect with someone local or to connect with someone with proven success in a specific industry.
Be clear on your priorities by thinking through these questions before reaching out to someone. That’s not to say the other person will be available to meet for lunch once a week to discuss career goals just because you’d like that, but even approximations of this (i.e., yes, you’re hoping for someone with local knowledge and no, you don’t care about the industry as much as you care about general success) are a good starting point.