Approaching and Attracting a Potential Mentor
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When I gave a speech in New Orleans, a teenager named Ben Shapiro was in the audience. I saw Ben again while I was traveling the country on a speaking tour and had the opportunity to watch him lead a workshop for teens at a youth convention. I was blown away by his creativity and knew he was going to be successful no matter what he did in life.
A year later, he reached out to me and asked if I was looking for an intern. He lived in Los Angeles and I was in New York City, so I told him I would mentor him through phone calls and emails, but other than that, I didn’t have much to offer him at the time. For months, Ben emailed me and asked if he’d be able to work on my YouTube channel if he flew to New York for the summer. He was so persistent that I felt bad saying no. His mom said she would rent an apartment in New York for the summer so Ben had a place to stay. He took classes a few days a week and worked with me on the others. Ben is a good example of staying in touch with someone you’ve met and not taking no for an answer.
If you’re asking someone you don’t know to be your mentor, make sure you’re very clear, out of the gate, about why you’re contacting them. Explain where you are in life, mention you’re looking for a mentor, and highlight why they would be a great mentor for you. Here’s an abbreviated version of what a young woman named Gabi Golenberg sent me out of the blue.
My name is Gabi, and I am 15 years old and live in Los Angeles. Through researching online as I was looking for possible mentors who I can seek advice from about an internship, I came across your inspirational work with both your entrepreneurial skills and involvement in Jewish organizations. Those are two things that have been my passions and interests throughout my life. Your plethora of work in various different fields is something that I would love to strive for in the future, and I really admire your achievements. It would be such an honor and huge opportunity to have the chance to speak with you at some point as your work mirrors my passions. I hope and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thank you so much for your time.
All the best,
At the time Gabi sent me this email, I had no plans to be in Los Angeles. I explained to Gabi that my work was in New York for the time being, but that I would be happy to talk with her on the phone and keep her in mind for future projects. We were supposed to schedule a call, but I got busy with speeches and covering New York Fashion Week and dropped the ball.
Fast-forward four months. I started traveling back and forth between New York and Los Angeles, and on one of my trips to California, I had the pleasure of meeting Gabi for coffee. She was even more impressive in person. We made a game plan for me to mentor her during her junior year and identify what projects of mine she wanted to help with.
Have an attitude of gratitude
After your initial call or email to your potential mentor, thank that person and share what you got out of the conversation. Once they’ve signed on to be your mentor, don’t bombard them with emails, calls and texts. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. If you send an email and your mentor doesn’t respond right away, don’t find that email and hit “Forward” to make sure you’ve re-sent it. And don’t send an email with just a question in the subject and nothing in the body like this: “SUBJECT: Tony, did you get my text? THNX.”
Abrupt messages like this make you look disconnected from reality, which is: Tony has responsibilities other than being your mentor. So think twice before you press send.
Here are a few more tips to follow to make sure your relationship with your mentor stays positive:
- Meeting your mentor. Once you set up a time to meet them, be clear about what you hope to get out of having a mentor. Are you looking for guidance? To shadow them at their job? Make sure your expectations match so there are no miscommunications.
- The mentor/mentee relationship. Set the stage for how this dynamic will work early on. For starters, how should you get in touch if you need their advice? Does your mentor prefer phone calls, FaceTime, or emails? Do they mind if you send a text for something urgent?
- Plan ahead. You’ll also want to find out how often they can meet. Never leave a meeting without scheduling your next one. It’s your job (not your mentor’s) to keep the mentorship alive.
- The next ask. If you’ve developed a relationship with your mentor over time, you may want to ask them to write you a letter of recommendation or be a reference for you if you’re applying for an internship or job. Mentors are connectors. Your mentor may be willing to make introductions for you, too.
- Keep in touch. Mentor/mentee relationships can turn into lifelong friendships. Don’t just make this about you and send updates about your life. Send your mentor a note from time to time to check in. Congratulate them when you come across good news about their personal life (maybe their child got into college) or when you see an update about their company. Send a holiday or happy birthday card when appropriate. Not only does it show you’re thoughtful, but you also never know when they may have a position that would be a great fit for you, and it doesn’t hurt to stay at the top of their mind.