How to ask someone to mentor you
By Kim Dority
When it comes to your career, mentors can be one of the fastest ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.
Mentors can help you identify and build up your strengths, recognize your weaknesses (and help with damage control), learn how to navigate office politics, figure out career questions, and generally be an advocate for your ongoing success.
Figuring out who’s good mentoring material
Asking someone to mentor you can feel a bit awkward, however – after all, this is a pretty big favor to ask. So before you pop the question, it helps to first look for indications that someone might be open to stepping into a mentorship role with you. Has this person shown an interest in you and your career? Have you had discussions about work-related questions that resulted in useful action items for you? Has he or she shared professional knowledge in a caring and supportive way? Has your potential mentor been willing to patiently spend time with you to help you grow your skills when asked? And does this person have the right knowledge/experience to address your specific mentoring issues?
If so, then you’ve probably identified someone who’s great mentor material. Your goal should be to build on those existing positive interactions to create a more structured learning relationship. And that starts with you first thinking through exactly what goals you have for the relationship, how to structure your work together, and what specifically you’re going to ask your mentor to do.
Identifying your mentoring goals and relationship
Do you want coaching on your communication style? Guidance on a potential promotion opportunity? Advice about what next career steps might be best for you? Help developing your leadership skills?
You want to be clear about the reason for your mentoring request, so your potential mentor will have an idea of how to help – or whether he or she can, in fact, help.
Regarding structuring your work together, are you hoping to meet for coffee and discussion once a week, once a month, some other schedule? (Needless to say, this will depend on the availability of your mentor, but it’s good to provide a sense of what you were thinking here.)
And are you looking for general guidance on your key issues, recommendations for reading and/or resources, professional connections, suggested actions to undertake/practice, or some other type of coaching?
Posing the mentoring question
Once you’ve thought through these issues, you’re ready to ask someone to mentor you. Here’s how to do that:
Schedule an initial conversation. Ask your potential mentor if he or she can make time for a 15-30 minute chat with you. You don’t want to be rushed, and you want plenty of time for the other person to ask you questions about your goals, etc.
Clearly describe the guidance you’re seeking. This is where that preliminary brainstorming on your part will help you articulate just what you have in mind.
Confirm your willingness to do the necessary work and follow-through. There’s nothing more frustrating than mentoring someone who doesn’t do the work necessary to take advantage of advice, so you want to make it clear to your potential mentor that you’re ready to commit the time, energy and effort to make the most of their counsel (and time).
Acknowledge and respect the individual’s time. Most people who are asked to become mentors are highly successful in their careers, which means they’re also very busy and much in demand. So it’s important for you to acknowledge that reality, and make it clear how much you appreciate their considering your request. This is also the way to provide a graceful “out,” letting the other person cite an overbooked schedule for declining your request.
How does this look in action? Something like this:
Susan, I’ve very much enjoyed and learned from the conversations we’ve had in the past, and I’d like to ask a favor of you based on my respect for the way you’ve developed your career. I’m at the point in my own career where I feel I need some mentoring to more effectively develop my management skills so that I can possibly move into a directorship role.
I was hoping that we might meet for coffee for about 90 minutes every two weeks to discuss your counsel regarding areas I should address. I would put together a meeting agenda for each get-together, make a list of any follow-up items that came out of our discussions, complete the action items during the next two weeks, and report back on my progress. I will plan to commit at least five hours a week to follow up on our discussion items.
I know that your schedule is an exceptionally busy one, so if it simply isn’t possible to work this type of commitment into your other activities, I certainly understand. In that case, thank you for considering this request, and I will simply look forward to our occasional conversations!
With this request, you’ve made it clear that you’ve done the important preliminary work of identifying goals, suggesting a structure, and committing to follow through on your discussions. This will let your potential mentor have confidence that you’ll be making the most of the investment he or she is making in your career success.
Kim Dority is founder and president of Dority & Associates, Inc., a Colorado-based company specializing in content strategy and development, and author of Rethinking Information Work and LIS Career Sourcebook (Libraries Unlimited, 2006 and 2012).