Should You Ask For a Mentorship?

Photo cred: Reto Fetz

There are two ways to start a mentorship.

You can let it grow naturally, or you can ask for it.

Personally, I let my mentorships grow naturally.  I view a mentorship as a mixture of a professional relationship and a “friendship”.  Therefore, while you can specifically seek out a professional to be your mentor and build a relationship with them, you can’t really ask for a friendship.

I know others have found success in asking a professional to be their mentor formally.  They find someone who they look up to, who they think would serve as a good mentor, and they just ask them.

What do you think?  Should you ask a professional to be your mentor or should you let your mentorships grow naturally?

16 thoughts on “Should You Ask For a Mentorship?

  1. Funny ypou should post this article. I’m in the midst of establishing a mentorship and quite frankly I’m stumbling through it.

    I want it to grow naturally but at the same time I’d like to see it grow at a speed as if I asked formally.

    I’m in a bind, looking forward to other peoples comments to formulate my next moves.

    Neil.

    1. Time is a big aspect of this issue. I’d assume that if you try to force it for the sake of immediacy, you may not create as strong of a relationship.

      Then again, you could get lucky, formally approach the right person, and the relationship can build naturally from that point… a trial and error approach.

      I’d say if you know of someone that you think would be a great fit for you, and would have the time to commit to the mentorship, don’t be afraid to ask. Also realize that a formal request may come with a formal response, and they may say no.

  2. I think it is important to do a combination of both asking and naturally gravitating toward someone.

    For example, I have worked in a corporation where they pair up new employees with established mentors and that works well. The mentor is someone you know you can go to for advice on your career and where you see yourself in the future.

    On the other hand some small firms don’t offer programs like this, so I think it is important to reach out and make connections with co-workers who are strong leaders. It is appropriate to keep them updated on what you are working on throughout the year (not just when you need something) so they can point you in the right direction.

    Also, with technology and social media, you don’t need to actually have met someone to have them be your mentor. Look at other areas in your network for mentors.

    Lastly, I think it is a good learning experience to mentor others. Perhaps an intern or students in your college alumni program – either way, give back so when you need a mentor, you are familiar with the process. And a little good karma never hurts.

    ~Caitlin
    @TravelPRgirl

    1. Interesting.

      That method of pairing up employees with mentors kind of reminds me of the process of assigning “bigs” to “littles” in a fraternity.

      The way it worked in my fraternity was a big would choose a little that they think they’d like, and they would help them through the pledge process.

      A lot of the relationship was formal. A big would be expected to carry out certain responsibilities. Sometimes however, if it was the right fit, a big and little would become very close, and the relationship would continue after pledging was done.

      Other times, it wasn’t the right fit, and the “little” would develop a relationship with other older brothers. So I can see how a mixture of both could work out.

  3. I do think you should ask for a mentor, especially in specific situations. Some of the situations have already been discussed, such as a small corporation not offering a mentor program. I work for a smaller company, in which they do not match you with a mentor; but, I also work remotely.
    I feel having a mentor at this point in my career is crucial, since I am growing a lot, yet I don’t have the in-person resources (e.g., hallway brainstorming sessions, water cooler chats, etc.) that I would have if I were in the office.
    I feel stuck because I am not sure who to ask to be my mentor—I have thought of asking an alumni from my school. I also don’t know what to expect from a mentor, or what I would ask of the relationship.
    I am open to thoughts and feedback on a mentor relationship for new professions, especially for remote professionals.

    1. Hey Kelly, all great questions. I have a number of posts if you browse through “Mentor Monday” category here. I’ll be compiling all the posts into one convenient guide for you soon (=.

      For who to choose, I’m sure others can provide better answers, but it should be someone who has the time, who you look up to, who you feel comfortable with and who you can keep up a reasonable amount of interaction with… Will have to get you some better answers (=

  4. I think the “grow naturally” approach is better because it allows both parties to really see if they’re compatible. Also, the mentor-mentee relationship is likely going to be stronger if personal bonds exist. But if it doesn’t work out? It’s not a big deal, because nothing was formally established.

    The downside that I see is in trying to turn the personal relationship into a professional (or semi-professional) one. There’s a constant give-and-take while determining the lines within the relationship, what’s expected from both parties, etc. Explicitly asking for a mentor avoids this because by asking, the parameters of the relationship are laid out for both parties. There’s still some give-and-take with boundaries, but the end goal is professional mentorship, whereas the other way, the line between personal and professional is one that must be found (if it even exists, but that topic has been beaten to death already).

    1. Interesting point. Are there a number of expectations that come with the “mentor” title? Perhaps a relationship that you mean to be a mentorship can be awkward if expectations aren’t consistent with both parties?

  5. I have never ‘formally’ asked someone to be my mentor, it has always unfolded.

    With that being said, I think it’s good to be proactive and ask that mentor to coffee regularly or send them e-mails with questions, etc. To me, that’s a form of asking for the mentorship to grow.

    Just like any relationship, the best ones unfold naturally. That’s what I believe…

    1. Well said Grace.

      While the best way to grow any relationship is naturally, if it’s just not happening for ya, sometimes you have to seek it out yourself. Help the relationship along, if you will.

  6. I agree with Grace, there has never been any sort of formality to it, but that does not mean the intent was not there. Relationships need to start somewhere, and chances are someone worth mentoring you is pretty damn busy. Take initiative, be proactive, persevere.

    Bottom line. No one is going to hand it to you. You have to go out and take it.

  7. There was a wsj article on this topic last month. You can see my blog response to it at http://blog.jomowire.com/?p=111.

    Basically, I agree with Grace that it needs to be natural, and that you need to develop it with some structure. I also argue that we need more than one mentor compared to the days when one was the norm. Different people will offer different perspectives and that’s how we grow.

    I’m hoping my recently launched online feedback tool (www.jomowire.com) will be a catalyst for developing and learning from these mentor relationships.

  8. “Relationships need to start somewhere, and chances are someone worth mentoring you is pretty damn busy. Take initiative, be proactive, persevere.”

    I whole-heartedly agree with Jason. Although a beautiful thing when one can develop a mentor naturally (aka. being kindred spirits with someone who could actually serve as a mentor), it can be hard to come by. Unless you are gifted with one of those personalities that gets along with EVERYONE, some of the responsibility falls to the mentee-to-be.

    Most people are more than happy to spend time with someone who is willing to ask for (and then LISTEN) to the advice from their experiences. Really, who wouldn’t want someone to say to them, “I think that you’re successful and I really appreciate who you are in this organization/profession/field/etc. I’d like to meet with you to chat and help me along the path, becuase you certainly seem to have more ducks in a row than I do…”? Opportunity to be made to feel special AND getting to help out another? Yes please!

    That being said, I’ve found that it doesn’t help to limit conversation solely to professional talk. The best mentoring relationships I’ve ever been a part of are somewhat professional, somewhat personal. I think that’s where the “natural” part can come in.

    Basically, mentoring is fun. No doubt. And the talk about “boundaries” or “expectations” doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out, formal “This you job. This mine.” It can consist of a simple “I was thinking we could do this, this and this when we meet. Sound good?” Just relax, have fun with it, and learn something!

  9. Well I think I probably covered my view on this when we were chatting this morning but I thought I’d throw in my two cents here.

    I’ve written multiple posts about this on my blog so I’ll try to keep this short and sweet.

    I ask and I let it happen. But most of the time I ask. My mentors aren’t signing contracts over here or anything but they all have their specific role in my life.

    One of my mentors went through a million drafts of my resume, guided me to blogging and to go to SXSW and I have to give her a lot of credit for my success. She helped me find myself when I needed it most.

    Another mentor of mine I met at a party at SXSW, asked him to do an interview for my blog and then I asked him straight up if he’d mind mentoring me. He happily obliged. While mentor #1 got me where I needed to be, she’s incredibly busy and was sometimes slow to respond. Mentor #2 replies within the hour, if not within minutes. He’s incredibly reliable and totally detached from my career so can always offer unbiased ways of seeing different situations.

    My other two mentors are colleagues of mine. The growth I’ve experienced there is fascinating to reflect on and they have played a tremendous role in it.

    Don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid tohave more than one mentor.

    I think Tim said aomething this morning about learning from a lot of people who aren’t necessarily mentors. Sure, that’s great and I obviously encourage learning as much ad possile. But when you have that relationship eatablished, it takes the learning to a whole new level.

    Everyone wants to be a part of something great. People like mentoring star performers. So if you are a pleasure to mentor and prove to be worth their investment, you will get so much more out of that relationship.

    1. Multiple mentors?! Why didn’t I think of that! Thanks Sydney for your input, I will try to put it into action.

      BTW – you mentioned you have a blog but did not leave a link to it. Can you connect with me vis Twitter?
      or
      by email – nwg77@hotmail.com

      Neil.

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