Inspiration and mentorship do not always come from your supervisor sitting in the next cubicle. This is especially true if you want to change your career path or job function or switch from employment to entrepreneurship. Chances are that people whose career strategies and entrepreneurial instincts you have grown to admire and want to learn from are complete strangers.
So how does one go about seeking mentorship from complete strangers?
Be sure you are asking the right person
Do your homework before you reach out to someone to be your mentor. Understand what they can do to help you by reading their career-related posts and articles or understanding their career graph and background deeply. It is also important that you ask someone who can help you in your career or aspirations immediately. For example, if you are just starting your career in advertising, an award-winning celebrity creative director could be your role model, but may not have the time to devote to helping you learn the nitty-gritty of the sector. The same holds true for celebrity unicorn founders and budding entrepreneurs.
Know exactly what you want out of the mentorship
You don’t want to waste your and your mentor’s time. Before you reach out to them, have a good, detailed idea of what you want to learn and exactly how your potential mentor can help. Sometimes, and this is often true when you are planning a complete career overhaul, you might realize that you need guidance on the basic next steps. For example, if you are planning to start a business, you might need help on basics like where to start looking for funding, or how much to save to be able to bootstrap.
Be prepared with questions you can’t just Google
You must know the questions you need to ask before you approach your potential mentor. It is important that you do your research on the field you need advice. Read Quora Q&As and pore over articles and blogs. Basically, be sure that your questions actually need an expert’s opinion and time, and not just facts you can easily find on the Internet.
Start with written communication
If you don’t have the email of your potential mentor, you can always reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. Written communication is a sign of intent and is not overbearing for professionals who may not always have the time for long calls or meetings with strangers without any context. Your message, as well as the subject line, should be clear and concise – that too is a sign showing your potential mentor that you respect their time.
Mention why you are asking them for mentorship
As time and attention span is of the essence, concisely address why you need the respective person to be your mentor. In your initial communication, you might want to outline the common aspiration that makes them your ideal mentor. You must also be concise yet clear about what you want guidance on.
Tell them how much time you need
In your first communication, you should clarify how much time you will need as a mentee. This will help them make an informed decision about whether or not they have enough time to guide you. It is also important to note that it is easier to be granted 30 minutes of someone’s time than getting two whole hours. You can always take guidance in parts.
Be flexible with your schedule
It is important that you understand that your potential mentor is not obliged to help you, especially if they are strangers and not senior colleagues. They are doing you a favour, so accommodate them and move things around on your own schedule if you need to.
Prepare for your first meeting
Write down your questions, do your due diligence, and have an idea of the mechanics (like whether you can engage over email or do monthly meetings). This will help you make the most of your first meeting with your potential mentor.
Demonstrate your willingness to do the work
Your first mentorship session might result in homework, more research, an online course, or taking the first steps towards your new business or job function. Mentoring someone who is not willing to follow through or do the required work is a thankless job. Don’t make it one for your mentor.
Follow up in a week’s time
Chances are that your potential mentor missed your first communication due to a busy schedule or vacation. So bring your email to the top of their inbox in a week’s time and check in once.
Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get a response. They may not have the time, or might not be willing to share their expertise. It is entirely their prerogative, and the last thing you want to do is to latch on. Move on and get in touch with someone else with similar expertise.
Only a few people are fortunate enough to get proactive mentorship from experts or supervisors. Most have to ask. But the good news is that getting to know people and making the first contact has never been easier. So get rid of your inhibitions, because as the saying goes, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.