JD had Doctor Cox. Luke Skywalker had Obi Wan. Steve Jobs had Andy Grove. What are we talking about?
Mentors. The altruistically-minded masters of a field who take someone less experienced under their wing, giving them advice and providing them with encouragement and guidance. For those looking to develop in a field, mentors are essential.
Alas, you can’t pick up a mentor from the shelves of Walmart. You actually have to develop a relationship with another human being, convincing him or her that you are worth their valuable time and energy.
Let me tell you, that isn’t easy. The first step is contacting them and making an incredible impression. Easier said than done, right? Here are a few tips for making a good impression when looking for career mentoring.
Know Your Potential Mentor.
“Bill! Bill! Bill! Mr Gates! Oh, thank God I caught you. I just wanted to shake your hand before you left. You’ve always been an inspiration to me. I mean… The iPhone? Genius! What will you think of next, eh?”
Okay, that example was a bit far-fetched, but you get the idea. When asking someone for help reaching the next level of your career, make sure that you actually know the person. Do they have a blog? Read it. Do they have a podcast? Subscribe to it on iTunes.
It’s just good form. Not only does it show that you’re interested and engaged, it also reduces the likelihood of embarrassing yourself. A good opener might be to send them an email saying that you’re aware of their work, and that you’re a fan. Not sure how to do that? My colleague Saikat has shared some advice about how you can use e-mail to develop your professional relationships.
Have A Demonstrable Interest In The Field
“Mr Gates. I know you’re a busy guy. Malaria doesn’t cure itself, right? But I was wondering if you could possibly spare a few hours a month to give me some career mentoring. I’m totally interested in computer science… My background? Erm… I own a computer?”
Hypothetically speaking, If someone emailed me and asked me to mentor them as they try to get their start in tech-blogging, I would only do so if they had a demonstrable interest in the field. If you’ve not got any samples of work to show me, I’m not interested. At all.
It’s the same in software development. If you don’t have a Github account or a blog, nobody will give you the time of day. Why should they? They can’t gauge your skill level. They can’t gauge your engagement or passion. You’re risky.
So, how do you address this? You get engaged. You get excited. Start working on your craft and start sharing it with the world, even if it sucks. Be brave.
Build A Relationship Before You Pop The Question
“Look Bill, I know we’ve only just met, and I know we’ve never spoken online before. But if we could just talk about how to help my career, that would be awesome.”
No. Just no.
Remember. You’re asking for someone to give up their precious spare time to help you out. That’s one hell of an ask, and people generally aren’t really eager to make that level of commitment for an absolute stranger.
Do you have Twitter? Follow your potential mentor. Engage in conversations with him or her. Are they going to any events in your local area? Show up to them and show that you’re engaged, and that you actually exist.
Take Rejection Well
“What? No? Fine. Screw you then. I’m going to ask Elon Musk to be my mentor. You’re dead to me, Bill. Dead to me.”
Newsflash. People are busy. Personally, I’ve a to-do list that’s longer than a Peter Jackson flick. They might not have time to commit to helping you out. They might just not want to. Whatever you do, please don’t go all ‘Michael Douglas in Falling Down’ on them. Don’t burn bridges.
Why? Because it’s a small world out there. If you act like a petulant little toddler, word will get out and you’ll find that the list of people who would be prepared to help you out will diminish somewhat.
Furthermore, who knows if they could be of help in future. In a lot of fields, connections are vital. Again. Don’t burn bridges.
A mentor can take your career to the next level, but you still need to remain courteous, professional and more importantly, develop a relationship with your potential mentor. These are interpersonal skills, and they’re important.
But what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment below, will you?