How to Get The Most Out of a Mentorship Opportunity

Learn how to request mentorship, nurture valuable relationships, and hit your mentorship goals!
September 16, 2020
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Whether you're a college student or a recent graduate, establishing a strong professional network and finding a mentor are essential steps toward building a successful career. A mentor not only helps you with networking but also provides valuable career support and guidance. The 2018 Gallup Alumni Survey revealed that college graduates with mentors are almost twice as likely to be engaged at work. 

Students can connect with potential mentors in various ways, including talking to faculty members, on-campus supervisors, and academic advisors. Many educational institutions offer formal mentorship programs aimed at increasing retention rates, academic achievement, and career exploration. These programs can be particularly beneficial for specific student groups, such as first-year students, first-generation students, and students of color, as they offer tailored support.

In this article, we'll explore the importance of mentorship, how to find the right mentor, and how to make the most of this valuable relationship.

How to Identify a Mentor

The Five Types of Mentors You Need

Having multiple mentors can be highly beneficial. Consider these five types of mentors that can support you during your college years and career:

  1. Expert in Your Field: Find a mentor who can provide advice on navigating your chosen career path, share industry trends, expand your network, and guide your decision-making.
  2. Personal Champion: This mentor is your unwavering supporter, helping you learn from failures and celebrating your successes.
  3. Peer Mentor: Peer mentors share similar experiences and can provide valuable insights, challenges, and collaboration opportunities.
  4. Anchor Mentor: This mentor keeps you grounded, considering your academic and career goals in the context of your overall life priorities.
  5. Mentee Relationship: Look for opportunities to mentor someone with less experience than you, allowing you to gain insights and self-awareness.

Benefits of Mentorship: How to Spot an Effective Mentor

Not every individual is well-suited to be a mentor, so it's essential to identify mentors who possess the following characteristics:

  1. Invested in You: Effective mentors are committed to building a strong relationship with their mentees, recognizing that it takes time and effort.
  2. Respectful: A good mentor values you as a whole person and respects your uniqueness.
  3. Active Listener: Effective mentors use active listening skills to understand your needs and provide relevant feedback.
  4. Empathetic: They recognize your unique perspective and understand your feelings and motivations.
  5. Problem Solvers: The best mentors not only offer advice but also ask questions to help you determine your next steps and stay focused on your goals.
  6. Flexible: Quality mentors adapt to changes in the mentoring relationship as your life and goals evolve.

How to Find a Mentor in College

To find a mentor in college, take advantage of the following resources:

  • Academic Advisors and Professors: Your professors and academic advisors can be valuable sources for mentorship or recommendations.
  • Student Clubs: Join clubs related to your major or interests, as faculty members often oversee these clubs and can become mentors.
  • Honors Societies: Many campuses have honors societies that offer access to mentorship opportunities and alumni connections.
  • Volunteering: Seek volunteer opportunities related to your major or interests, where you may naturally form mentor/mentee relationships.
  • Internships: Internships can lead to mentorship opportunities and job connections in your field of interest.
  • Professional Associations: Explore professional organizations related to your field and check if they offer mentorship programs.
  • Fitness Classes and Groups: Engage in fitness classes or groups where you can meet professionals who value health and well-being.
  • Industry Meetups: Attend industry-specific events, conferences, and networking opportunities.
  • Social Media: Utilize platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with potential mentors in your field.
  • Public Locations: Engage in conversations with people you meet in everyday settings, as experienced individuals are all around us.

How to Ask for Mentorship

Initial Outreach

A first meeting over coffee or a short video call, is low commitment for your target mentor and will give you an opportunity to better understand them, gauge your chemistry, and see if they'd be the right fit for you. When seeking a mentor, make sure to have a clear goal and start with informal conversations.

You can use this template for initial outreach:

Dear [Name],

I hope this message finds you well! I recently saw your [include something relevant and specific to them, i.e., project/award, etc.]. I am reaching out because I want to learn more about your career journey and gain valuable insights into [specific topic or industry].

[Optional: Provide a brief introduction about yourself, including your current background or career interests, to give the recipient context about your request.]

I would love if you could spare some time for an informational interview, either in person or via a convenient virtual platform, at your earliest convenience. I am particularly interested in understanding:

  1. [Specific question or topic you'd like to discuss]
  2. [Another specific question or topic]
  3. [Any additional questions or topics you'd like to explore]

I am very flexible with the format and timing of the interview—if you're open to an informational meeting, please let me know a date and time that works best for you.

Thank you for considering my request, and I look forward to your response. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Contact Information]

Send a Thank-you Note

After your meeting, follow up with a thank-you email sometime within the same week. In your message, share a few key things you learned during the conversation and let them know you'd like to follow up in a few weeks:

We recommend sending something along the lines of:

Dear [Name of the Person],

I wanted to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude for the informative meeting we had earlier today. Your willingness to share your knowledge and insights was incredibly valuable, and I truly appreciate the time and effort you dedicated to our conversation.

I gained a deeper understanding of [specific topic or subject discussed], and your expertise provided me with valuable insights that will be instrumental in [mention how it will be helpful in your future endeavors or decisions]. 

If it's okay with you, I'd love to touch base in a few weeks. Thanks again for your insight!

The Follow-Up

After 3-5 weeks from the initial thank-you note, it's time to follow up again. Share with them how you've implemented the insights gained from your initial meeting. Let them know that you've taken their advice to heart—maybe you dove into the book they recommended or a TED talk they raved about.

Now, the million-dollar question: Would they be up for another meeting within the next few weeks? Instead of sending a formal agenda, keep your communication light and casual. That being said, it's still a good practice to jot down any topics or questions you'd like to discuss and include them in your email when you reach out. This way, you can ensure your conversation remains focused and productive.

We've seen great success with sending an email along the lines of:

Dear [Mentor],

I hope this message finds you well! I wanted to follow up on our last conversation regarding [i.e. the podcast] you recommended. I just listened to it and found it fascinating, especially [mention something specific]. Thank you so much for suggesting it!

On another note, I've been contemplating [something you want advice on, i.e., taking a specific class/adding something to your portfolio, etc.]. I'd really appreciate any insight you might have; maybe we can discuss it at our next meetup.

I know you're busy, but let me know what your schedule is like these upcoming weeks, and hopefully, we can find a time to meet up. I look forward to catching up!

How to Get the Most Out of Mentorship

So you've found the right mentor. Now what? It's important to make the most of your mentorship:

  • Stay Goal-Oriented: Keep your mentor updated on your progress toward your goals.
  • Consistent Meetings: Schedule regular meetings and send agendas to stay on track.
  • Be Open to Feedback: Embrace both positive and constructive feedback.
  • Take Notes: Keep notes during meetings for follow-up and accountability.
  • Set an End Date: Decide on the duration of your mentorship, typically four to six months initially.
  • Respect Boundaries: Keep the relationship professional, avoiding monopolizing sessions with personal issues.
  • Establish a Board of Mentors: Consider having multiple mentors to cover various aspects of your career.

Finally, the Ultimate Mentorship Goal:  Establish a Board of Mentors

In your professional journey, think of assembling a personal mentorship dream team instead of relying on just one mentor. Diversity in mentorship can be your greatest asset; each mentor brings a unique perspective and expertise to the table.

For instance, one mentor might be your go-to for leadership insights because of their experience as a supervisor. Another could be your go-to for honing technical skills, especially when you're eyeing a career change. And then there's the mentor who knows your skillset inside out and could potentially become your career sponsor in the future.

There's no hard-and-fast rule for the number of mentors you should have as you progress in your career; it's about quality over quantity. Even if a formal mentorship arrangement concludes, keep these mentors in your circle, and share your accomplishments and challenges with them. They can continue to provide valuable guidance when you're navigating uncharted waters. Plus, knowing they've contributed to your career journey is a win-win that fosters deeper connections.

Mentorship is a powerful tool for personal and professional development. Finding the right mentor and nurturing the relationship can greatly impact your career success. Be proactive, maintain clear goals, and express gratitude to make the most of this valuable opportunity. Whether you're a college student or a seasoned professional, mentorship is a path to accelerated growth and achievement.

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