Discovering your career

Looking for a Mentor? Start by Asking These 7 Questions

An expert lends her advice for starting your search for the perfect mentor.

Imagine yourself standing at the base of a very tall, scary-looking mountain that you know you’ve got to climb. Wouldn’t it help to have somebody who’s done it before to guide you along the path, warning you about treacherous ledges and answering your questions about which boulders are safe to grab onto? If you’re a college student or recent graduate and beginning the journey up the mountain of your career, a great mentor can serve as this sort of guide. However, if you don’t know where to start, finding a potential mentor can be almost as intimidating as that mountain!

The potential benefits of mentor-mentee relationships are huge. Professional guidance from a trusted mentor can not only help instill confidence in your career path, but can also help expand your network and drastically improve your chances of earning promotions and higher pay. A great mentor can help set you down a great career path by urging you to consider your life vision, serve as a voice of experienced wisdom when you face professional challenges, and ask the tough questions about your career choices.

If all of the above has convinced you to begin seeking out a mentor to help guide your professional growth, Anna Robinson, founder and CEO of leadership development program Ceresa, suggests that you begin by asking the following questions.  

1. What are your aspirations?

Where do you see your life taking you? If you’re still in school, your ideas about your path might be rooted in your academic major, or perhaps stem from internship or volunteer experiences you’ve had. No matter if your dreams for the future are still vague or subject to change—write them down, even if it’s just a list of bullet points. 

2. What are your questions for a mentor?

As you think about where you want to go, what are the biggest questions on your mind? Articulating your top five to seven questions can help clarify what you want in the right mentor, and how you should spend your time with them. 

3. What kind of person do you want to learn from?

When you picture a mentor in your mind’s eye, what do you see? This doesn’t mean physical attributes: instead, focus on what kind of person you think could provide the best guidance. Have they taken a specific career path, or navigated a notable hurdle, like breaking into a white-male-dominated industry as a woman of color, or transitioning from the military into the civilian world? Keep these things in mind as you begin the search for your ideal mentor. 

4. What does your existing network look like?

Map out some of the folks you might already have in your life, and think broadly. Do you have professors or past teachers, family, friends, classmates, or internship connections that might be able to help in your search for the right fit?

5. Who else can you ask for introductions?

There are many folks who don’t have a personal circle that can foster introductions to potential mentors; that, in itself, is a huge part of the inequity of circumstance that Handshake aims to solve. Using peer messaging, you can connect with alumni from your university or professionals along the same career path; these connections can be the right key to finding a mentor! And never underestimate the power of social media to build relationships online.  

6. How will you ask someone to be your mentor?

Once you’ve identified a great person who you admire, the next step is taking the plunge and asking them to be your mentor! Email is fine in this scenario, but don’t forget the power of live conversation—if you feel comfortable, consider picking up the phone or hopping on a video call to make your request. 

When preparing your talking points for the call, keep these guidelines in mind: 

  • Do your research. What experiences does this potential mentor have that are relevant to your journey? Consider naming them, and listing some specific questions you’re wrestling with that they might be able to help answer.
  • Approach the relationship with realistic expectations. A busy mentor might not feel comfortable committing to a standing weekly conversation, but they might still be interested in helping guide your path! You want to set up your mentoring relationship for long-term success, which means starting small and growing with time, as in any relationship. 
  • Pay some compliments. While your request for mentorship is something of a compliment in itself, don’t forget that flattery is effective! Offer specific examples about what you admire about this person and/or their career. 
  • Offer your own help. You never know what a potential mentor might need based on your own more junior perspective, or with your specific skill set!

7. How can you build a relationship with someone you don’t know?

One of the best ways to forge a relationship with somebody new is to find common ground. As mentioned above, consider offering to help your prospective mentor on a project they’re passionate, such as a nonprofit they volunteer with. By starting off with a common focus, you’ll find more natural chances to bond in your mentor-mentee relationship.

Once you’ve asked and answered these questions, you’ll be well on your way to a rewarding mentorship experience. 

If you want even more help along the way, Ceresa is offering a special deal for new grads looking for support as they enter the job market. You can read more about the nine-month Ceresa Leadership Accelerator program here and enter code NEWGRAD20 for a 60% subsidy. 

About Anna Robinson: Anna Robinson is CEO and Founder of Ceresa. Anna launched Ceresa in 2018, with the mission to build diverse leadership for the future, by democratizing access to truly transformative career and leadership resources. She currently lives in Austin, TX with her husband, three daughters, and beloved aging dog. 

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