Do you know what Oprah Winfrey, Aristotle, and Bill Gates have in common? They all had a mentor to thank for their success.
Mentorship is more than just nice to have. This professional relationship is one of the best ways to advance your career and hit your professional goals. That’s because a mentor guides you and helps you decide what you really need to do to succeed.
Finding a mentor can be challenging, especially if you’ve never had one. Follow these eight steps to start your mentor search and build a mutually beneficial relationship.
The purpose of most mentorships is to help you develop new strengths and overcome any obstacles you need guidance with. If you don’t know what you’re looking to accomplish, your business mentor won’t be able to help you.
Before you consider a mentorship, reflect on what you’d like to gain from it. Ask yourself:
What areas of your work performance would you like to improve?
What are your career development goals and aspirations?
How can a mentor help you succeed?
Having a clear idea of what you hope to learn is a pivotal first step in deciding who your mentor should be and how their experience is applicable to you.Create a professional development plan template
Your prospective mentor doesn’t need to be a CEO or business owner. In fact, it’s often beneficial to find a mentor that’s 3–5 years ahead of you in their career—that way, they’re more connected to the challenges you're navigating and are best positioned to offer relevant support and advice.
You can find a mentor virtually anywhere, even outside your professional network, including:
Past connections or past bosses
Online networks and forums related to your industry
When searching, keep in mind that an ideal mentor is:
An expert in your field: Look for someone who has the skills, knowledge, and experience you want. If you think, “I want to be like them,” they’re probably a good mentor for you.
Dedicated to mentoring: Mentors are often busy people. Ensure the mentor you choose is willing to take the time out of their day, week, or month to meet with you.
Someone you’re comfortable around: Over time, your mentorship will develop into a professional friendship, so make sure you’re selecting a mentor you like.
Good at listening: A mentor should try to understand the challenges you’re facing. In order to offer advice, they need to practice active listening before jumping in with suggestions.
Willing to question assumptions: A lot of career “mistakes” happen because we aren’t willing to challenge our baseline assumptions. Look for a mentor who is practiced at asking hard questions and challenging your way of thinking.
Willing to share their past experiences: A mentorship is a two-way relationship—it isn’t all about the mentee or about the mentor. Look for someone who’s excited to learn about you and share their own experiences.
Interested in your long-term goals and career path: This is something that naturally develops with time, but look for a mentor with high emotional intelligence and empathy.
We’ll be honest, it’s hard to find a great mentor. Everyone’s career journey is different, and finding someone who can help guide yours while offering insight from theirs takes time. Before reaching out to a potential mentor, make sure to do your research. Look into their career and familiarize yourself with what they’ve accomplished before scheduling a meeting.
Once you’ve found a potential mentor, you should set a meeting to determine whether the relationship is a fit. If you know this person, ask to meet for a coffee chat to discuss their career progression and your professional development plans. However, if you don’t yet know your potential mentor, you don’t want to cold-ask someone to be your mentor. Instead, try to set up informal chats or informational interviews.
When you’re ready, reach out via email to set up the initial meeting. Your pitch should:
Lead with a short introduction about yourself
Explain what you like about your potential mentor’s career
Connect your potential mentor’s career to your own aspirations
Clarify the ask—what do you want from them?
Thank them for their time
Depending on whether your potential mentor is a stranger, a friend of a friend, or a professional connection, you’ll want to send a different email style.To get started, try these three email templates for different mentorship opportunities.
Cold mentor outreach email template
Dear [mentor’s name],
My name is [name] and I’m a [career position]. I’m particularly interested in [career goals] and I noticed that’s something you yourself have done in the past. I really liked [specific past mentor experience], and I’d love to hear more about it.
Are you available for a 15-minute [call/video chat] sometime this week or next?
Thank you for your time,
Mutual connection mentor outreach email template
Dear [mentor’s name],
My name is [name] and I’m a [career position]. [Mutual connection] recommended I reach out to you because [mentor accomplishment].
I’d love to schedule an informal meeting to discuss [career topic]. Currently, I’m working on [relevant project], and I’m inspired by the work you did on [mentor project]. I really liked [specific mentor experience], and I’d love to hear more about how your career started and how you’ve gotten to where you are today.
Are you available for a 30-minute [phone call/video call] this week? I’m available at [three different time options].
Looking forward to connecting,
Professional connection mentor outreach email template
Hi [connection’s name],
I hope you’re doing well. I've enjoyed our [time working together/professional experience] and I’ve learned a lot from your expertise and leadership. I found your [advice/guidance/mentorship] on [specific past project] extremely helpful. [Cite specific reason if possible.]
After spending time thinking about my career path, I’ve realized that I would benefit from your mentorship. [Specific career experience] is the type of work I want to do more of in the future, and I’d love to pick your brain on your past experience and how you’ve gotten to where you are.
Would you be open to coffee or lunch soon? Let me know what day works best for you!
Thanks in advance,
You’ve done the hard part—finding a potential mentor and reaching out to them. The rest is just being yourself. Building good rapport with your mentor comes with time. You may talk to people that don’t feel like the right mentor for you—in that case, thank them for their time and advice, but don’t feel pressured to schedule a follow-up meeting.
Part of being a good mentee is preparing in advance of all your mentoring sessions—especially the first one. Before your first meeting:
Prepare specific questions. The conversation will go a lot smoother if you prepare a set of questions in advance. This doesn’t need to be a script, but just enough to help the meeting feel purposeful and reduce any awkwardness.
Be prepared to talk about yourself and your career goals. Like any conversation, mentorship is a two-way street. While you won’t spend the majority of this first meeting talking about yourself, make sure you can clearly articulate your career goals and how your potential mentor’s career has inspired you.
Thank them for taking the time. This person is taking time out of their day to help you, so it’s important to show your gratitude. In addition to thanking them in person, plan to send a follow-up email thanking them for the chat.
Spend the initial conversation learning more about them, sharing your own career experiences, and asking questions about your career. Don’t focus on mentorship—the main goal of your first few interactions is to see if you’re getting anything out of the conversations. Once you confirm that you two work well together, you can decide whether or not to pop the question.Create a professional development plan template
You don’t ever have to officially ask this person to be your mentor. If you’re meeting frequently and connecting well, you and the other person will both grow to think of this relationship like a mentorship.
However, there are some advantages to defining a mentorship relationship once you’ve established a good rapport. The biggest advantage is increased structure—instead of viewing this as a few casual meetings every quarter, your mentor will recognize this as a mentoring relationship and may put more into it as a result.
The right way to ask someone to be your mentor depends on your relationship. Once you’ve gotten to know them, you’ll have the best sense of whether or not you want to make this relationship “official.”
As the mentee, one of the best things to bring to this relationship is structure. While the mentorship relationship is mutually beneficial, you’re the one asking the mentor to take time out of their day to help you advance your career. Providing structure and maintaining the relationship can be the difference between an okay and a great mentorship program.
When structuring your mentorship, you should consider:
Your mentorship goals and how you’ll track progress toward them
Where and how often you want to meet and check in
Whether or not either of you will prepare something in advance
Taking responsibility and being proactive to maintain this long-term relationship
You don’t need a formalized written plan—you don’t necessarily even need to share this structure with your mentor. But make sure you have a clear way of tracking progress, plans, and advice.
Use a project management tool to coordinate all of this work in one place. It’s up to you to decide whether or not to share this software with your mentor. That being said, doing so can help you both align on structure, next steps, and action items.Read: What is a professional development plan (PDP)? 6 steps to create one
You reached out to your mentor to teach you the tricks of the trade, but it’s important to remember they have their own personal life and responsibilities. Be respectful of their time and find small ways to show your gratitude, like a handwritten note or connecting them to someone who might be professionally relevant. A mentorship can and should work both ways, after all.
However, the best way to show gratitude is to demonstrate how you’re incorporating their advice. Listen and take notes during your meetings so you can reflect on their suggestions later on, and keep your mentor updated on what happened after you followed their advice. Showing your mentor you’re putting their teachings into practice will make them value your relationship even more.
You can’t expect the same mentor to guide you from an entry-level position to CEO. As you advance your career, it’s okay to seek out mentors with different perspectives that best suit your current needs and challenges. This doesn’t mean you need to drop your original mentor, though — you can always benefit from more than one.
For instance, if you’re transitioning to a freelance position after working for years at an agency, you may want to seek out a mentor with freelance experience. Or maybe you’ve got your eye set on a promotion that requires exceptional public speaking skills—you might need guidance from someone with expertise in that.
As you continue to navigate different roles (or even different careers), you can repeat steps one through seven to find and foster a mentorship that works best for you at that moment.
A business mentor is a professional who is willing to take time out of their day to help you. The mentorship relationship is often a two-way street—as the mentee, you get professional advice and help, whereas the mentor gets leadership and training experience out of it. Many professionals choose to become mentors because someone mentored them in the past, and that opportunity helped them arrive where they are today. Regardless of your industry or the type of mentoring you engage in, mentors do not charge for their services. At the same time, the mentorship relationship is less formal than coaching—a mentor won’t give you homework, provide a ton of structure, or do the work for you.
A sponsor is someone who works at your company. This person champions and advocates for you—they might take you under their wing to guide you toward promotions and navigate business negotiations. Sponsors can also be mentors, but they’re typically sponsors first and foremost.
Unlike a mentor or a sponsor, a coach is a paid role. Career coaching is typically focused on one or two areas of professional development, like building your leadership style or working on your team management skills. And, typically unlike mentorship and sponsoring, career coaching can also help you achieve goals in your personal life. You can develop a long-term relationship with your career coach, but it will always be a business transaction rather than a professional friendship.
The ultimate goal of a mentorship relationship is to advance your career. The ideal mentor helps you hone your skill set and better understand the industry. As the mentee, it’s your responsibility to track progress toward your goal.
If you aren’t already, use a project management tool with goal tracking. This helps you align on what you’re doing, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there.Create a professional development plan template