No matter where you are in your career path, everyone could use a little advice. Finding someone you trust who can help guide your professional development (aka, a mentor) is invaluable. But, most of us are often unsure of where to start or how to take that first step. Who should you ask to be your mentor? How often do you need to meet with them? Do they have to work in the same industry as you? We headed stateside to ask five Birchbox US staffers who are mentors or mentees themselves to share their tips on finding a mentor and how to build a meaningful, long-lasting relationship with them.
1. Utilise your networking tools
Everyone knows someone who knows someone and beyond. Tap into your existing network, and put yourself out there. “Never say no to a networking event. Always attend and go with a set of goals, like leaving with a certain number of emails,” Heather, freelance copywriter, says. “Make your own business cards and hand them out. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself or let people know you’re there.”
2. Find someone who wants to work with you just as much as you want to work with them
What matters more is the person, not their position. “The most important thing is to find someone you click with who is truly excited to make time for you,” Katia, CEO and co-founder, says. “He or she should have experience that you respect, but I don’t believe being in a similar industry is important.”
3. Have an agenda
“If there’s someone who you want to be your mentor, write them an email that shows them you have your stuff together. Express why you chose them, be explicit about the help you’re asking for, the commitment you’re asking for (coffee once a month, twice a month), and send them an agenda for your first meeting,” Becky, director of engineering, says. “You should have a plan for every meeting with your mentor,” she says. Everyone’s time is valuable, so don’t waste your time and definitely don’t waste you mentor’s.
4. Ensure the relationship is a two-way street
Yes, it’s possible and essential that you learn from your mentor and that they learn from you as well. “Ideally mentors should feel like they’re getting something from you too — for example, insights on millennial consumer behaviour — so it’s a reciprocal relationship and you’re both learning,” Katia says. “Mentees should look to make a real connection with someone, so their experience together is enjoyable and mutually beneficial,” she says.
5. Share your short-term and long-term career goals
It’s your career and your life. Know what your plan of action is to get the most out of both. “In the past, my mentors made me write down my short-term and long-term career goals along with tangible actions on how I planned to achieve them,” Christine, tech project manager, says. “This ensured we were both on the same page in terms of what I needed to do and how they could best guide me.”
6. Make it easier for your mentor
Two words: Be proactive. “As a mentee, you have to do the most. Make it easier for your mentor by putting time on their calendar to schedule touch-bases so you can check in with them and know what’s expected of you,” Nic, Birchbox intern, says.
7. Be direct in your asks
If there’s something specific you think your mentor could help you with, “Don’t beat around the bush,” Heather says. “Be transparent with your mentor about what you need. It’s more refreshing as a mentor when someone’s clear about the help they want from me. Being direct also shows maturity,” she says. “You don’t need to be aggressive, but it’s helpful to know exactly where everything falls into place. Spell out for your mentor how their time will help you.”
8. Don’t only reach out to your mentor when something’s wrong
Of course your mentor wants to help, but what they don’t want is an email with a long list of problems you’re experiencing. “Your mentor doesn’t only want to hear from you when everything isn’t going well,” Becky says. “Reach out and give them updates on little wins or accomplishments and how everything’s going just in general. If you do have a dilemma, inform them and list a few different ways you’re thinking about resolving it. Then, ask for their input,” she says.
9. Always ask questions
“Asking questions facilitates communication between you and your mentor. You have more productive conversations. If they’re just telling you what they think, then it’s not a perfect relationship,” Christine says. “If you don’t agree with something, be open and speak up about why. It’s important to be honest with them. It should be a back and forth dialogue.”
— Francesca Conlin