Choosing Mentors: 6 Tips to Making the Ask

Roger Cameron, founder of the JMO recruiting industry and Cameron-Brooks, used to say in his introductory Information Meetings, “You will not reach your potential and move up within an organization…”and then he would pause for effect (he was really good at this), and say, “unless other people want you to get there.”

If you want to grow, develop and move up, you need other people’s advice, counsel and feedback. A couple of months ago, we launched the Cameron-Brooks Podcast, Above and Beyond. In each of the episodes, a Cameron-Brooks Team Member interviews an Alumnus to dissect his or her success, lessons learned, failures, and books they’ve read. So far, in each of the episodes, every one of the Alumni has alluded to the importance of mentors.

The number one reason I hear from people on why they do not have a mentor is that they do not know who to ask. Here are a few suggestions to find a mentor:

  • You can choose several people. I know several professionals who have a personal board of directors, three or four people they meet with regularly to talk about professional and personal goals and challenges.
  • Find at least one person within your company or organization but is not your direct supervisor.  It’s a good idea to have someone inside the company and at a higher level than you because they likely know how to navigate the company policies for promotions, education and development, have insight into a variety of career paths, and can also put you in touch with other people in the company.
  • Look for someone whom you look up to and whose leadership and knowledge you appreciate.  Maybe you say to yourself, “I want to be like that person in five years.”
  • It does not have to be someone who is physically at your office. One of our Alumni is in Connecticut and his mentor is in California. They talk on the phone quarterly.

The number two reason why people do not have a mentor is that they are afraid to ask because they know the person is already busy. I want to let you in on a secret: most people want to mentor. They just need to be asked! Here are two tips to asking someone to be a mentor:

  • Have a plan. Contact the mentor and set a time to talk. Let the person know you want to meet to talk about professional development. When you meet, be straightforward: “I am looking for a mentor to help with …”.  Ensure you can finish that sentence with two to three specific areas such as requesting help with providing constructive feedback to team members, career planning, or a functional skill. You just don’t want to ask, “Will you be my mentor?” because the person will just ask you, “Before I answer that, what do you need help with?” Most importantly this shows the person that you will drive the relationship ensuring that you are prepared and will not waste his or her time.
  • Set some expectations. Let the person know you recognize his or her time is valuable and that you will be sure to have an agenda for each meeting. Ask the person how often he or she thinks it is realistic to talk or meet. This way, the person understands the commitment.

In the end, if you are told “No,” it’s okay, just look for someone else.

Lastly, once you find your mentor(s), ensure you make yourself available to pay it forward and mentor other people. “Give and then you shall receive.”