THE KEY TO NETWORKING IS A GOOD MENTOR. In Networking In A Nutshell, I outlined how to begin building a broad network based on the people you already know. I explained how I met with my young friend and provided her with contracts to help her drive her career.
If you have mentors who have been successful on a path similar to the one you foresee, they can tell you what they wished they had known, what shortcuts they found, about people you may want to know and how to get to know them, what additional skills you need and how to gain them. Mentors are the well of wisdom – don’t expect them to do all the work, bring your own bucket.
The Mentor’s You Need Are within Three Degrees of Separation
Be patient. Finding the right mentor now will speed your career in the long run. One friend told me she didn’t want to “bother” people with her job search – rather than ask for support and mentoring, she stood alone and was unable to find access to the career she desired. Eventually she did find a job, but she settled for something that met her need.
“Ecologists tell us that a tree planted in a clearing of an old forest will grow more successfully than one planted in an open field. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the forest tree are able to follow the intricate pathways created by former trees and thus embed themselves more deeply. This literally enables stronger trees to share resources with the weaker so that the whole forest becomes healthier. Similarly, human beings thrive best when we grow in the presence of those who have gone before.” Parks Daloz
I don’t fault my friend. I did the same thing, not because I didn’t want to bother anyone but because I thought I didn’t “know” anyone – I was new to the area. But rarely do we lack resources; if we know no one, we can connect through an association or organization. Find a forest and start putting down roots.
Let this Six-Step Mentor Process to Guide You
Just as I outlined a six-step networking process in “Networking In a Nutshell” I recommend that you follow a process as you approach your mentoring relationships. I have outlined a six step process. You may break it down further to more steps. These steps outline a project plan and any good plan should also have a time frame. Use a calendar to set your objectives:
STEP 1 – TALK TO PEOPLE. Begin by creating a powerful statement about your networking plan. If your goal is to save the world in big or small ways, you should seek one mentor with an established and diverse network of connections from a variety of disciplines and fields. Later you will ask that mentor to connect you with two other people who could best support your future goal.
Alternatively, if your career goal well defined by conventional standards, say Chemical Engineer, then you may ask for a Chemical Engineer with an established and diverse network of connections. If after much thought, you still cannot think of a good first mentor, go to LinkedIn and join a LinkedIn Group related to your career interests. Try to find a group that is connected with a recognized professional organization or the college you attended. Reach out to members in the group for a recommendation and post a question the discussion board. If you follow the LinkedIn Group path, expect your initial connection to be someone who can help you find one strong mentor.
STEP 2 – PREPARE TO MEET YOUR MENTOR. Remember a mentor has a wealth of wisdom and a lack of time. Don’t waste either. Ask for a twenty minute meeting. This first mentoring meeting is every bit as important as a job interview.
When you arrive have a clear agenda. This first mentoring meeting is every bit as important as a job interview. Do your homework. If your mentor has a LinkedIn presence you should study, and know their bio. If they don’t have a LinkedIn presence, ask them if they have a CV or bio statement that you could have. Prepare your agenda based on their bio. Begin with a purpose statement, provide a goal statement, and then ask four questions.
Purpose Statement Sample: At this time in my career I am looking for help from other professionals, not only to avoid potential pitfalls, but to foresee the kind of opportunities that will put me on a long term trajectory for success. From my research, I understand that people who are clear about their aspirations and remain relatively true to their course are the most successful. I would like help setting that course for my success before I begin looking for my next job opportunity.
Goal Statement Sample 1: When I left high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and sometimes still I am ambivalent, but I understand that I should focus my career so that I don’t stall at this important stage in my professional development. My goal is to find a job with a good company where I can use my degree to gain experience, grow my leadership skills, and advance my professional network as part of a professional association or organization. In three to five years, I expect to either go back to school to gain top off my once I have clarity on my future goals, or make a career change that will put me on track.
Goal Statement Sample 2: I know exactly what I would like to do, but I know I have to prepare myself to become the professional that can fulfill my aspirations. I would like to [start a non-profit, grow a business, run for office, or become a VP for a global corporation] and am looking for help knowing what to do first and how to make the contacts now and down the road to ensure my ultimate success. For example, I would like to discover the kinds of jobs that would set me on the right course and prepare me for the next career advancement to support my long term goals.
Questions you might want to ask: before you meet your mentor, know exactly the questions you plan to ask. If you bring a 1-page agenda with your Purpose Statement, Goal Statement and Proposed Questions, you will create the impression that you mean business, that you own your process, and you are worth their investment – you won’t waste their time.
- Can you talk about your own process of defining your career goal, and any regret you might have with your approach. In other words, what is your best advice for me now about setting my immediate and long term career goal?
- Are there people in your network that you could connect me with now that you feel would be good mentors for me over time? I am not looking for a large time commitment but someone that can provide advice a couple times a year; someone to help me keep on the right course.
- What jobs do you think I should look for right now, and do have any direct contacts that might help me get a foot in the door? Or do you know people I should talk to who might have the contacts I need.
- Are you willing to talk to me in the future? [If yes.] So that I don’t waste your time, how do you think you could be most helpful?
STEP 3 – SHOW YOUR APPRECIATION (REALLY). At the end of your first meeting, give your mentor small token of your appreciation.
For example, at Engraved Stones Direct you can get engraved stones to share with your contacts; minimum orders are required so you might want to work with a group of friends. But stonecheer.com sells engraved key chain stones for just $9.99 each. You can add your own message, like “Never Give Up.”
This small gift will make you unforgettable and your mentor unconsciously becomes more connected with your and therefore more committed to your success. It is this initial flame of commitment that you do not want to extinguish. When you get home, on the same day, send your mentor a thank you note mentioning one thing they said that you expect to remember always, and the steps you commit to taking next. If they promised you anything, thank them for that promise (remind them) and let them know you look forward to their follow-up.
You are not done yet. Just saying “thank-you” will not cement a relationship. Within two weeks follow-up with a very short note reporting progress – that is the first step to creating an ongoing relationship. In this message you will say, if there is anything I can ever do for you, I am sincerely counting on the opportunity to reciprocate your kindness.
Clearly, conveying gratitude is nothing new. In 1836 Mendelssohn wrote to Klingemann:
“A thousand thanks for all your care and for the interest you take in the whole affair. It is no doubt important for me that the performance and all the arrangements should be as perfect as possible; therefore, let me thank you for it all once more.”
Gratitude costs nothing to give and is priceless to receive – you cannot give too much, as long as your gratitude is conveyed sincerely.
STEP 4 – CHART A CAREER MAP. If you are right brained by me, creating and having a plan would mean kissing good-bye other aspirations. I remember my son told me I would like to be a Musician but I would be a more successful Engineer. He is more left brained and doing the logical thing makes complete sense to him. In my experience, doing the logical thing makes good sense whether you are left or right brained and if you are right brained you will be glad you did, if not immediately then in the future. You will be able to live, love and laugh more easily – and that will make up for the aspirations you abandoned along the way.
I wanted to be an actress, a seeing eye-dog trainer, a neuropsychologist, a mediator, an artist, a writer, a consultant and after all, I ended up a Human Resource professional, who is writing a novel. I am quite happy. But, if I had focused on human resources and writing way back when, I would be more successful, have gained more promotions and would have more money in the bank.
After your first meeting with your mentor, take time to draw a map, literally. Have fun and make it your own. Put your final goal in the center, like a bulls-eye or make it linear like a treasure map with symbols to remind you of the things you must overcome along the way. No one else can do this for you, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and it probably is not exactly how it will all turn out but it should provide you with a framework for your career development for the next six years.
STEP 5 – TAKE CARE OF YOUR MENTOR. Believe it or not, your mentor will not follow-up to see if you are making progress. You are an adult now and your career progress and development are your responsibility.
Take the initiative to set up a follow-up meeting with your mentor and expect to meet every two months for the first six months then quarterly then two times in the next six months, twice during the following six months then once to report out and convey a final expression of your gratitude. I you are clever you will follow up your first token of appreciation with something that shows you have benefitted from the relationship – a book that you have read and that has helped you succeed is a good idea. They can give it to someone else with your recommendation.
Before every meeting, provide an update on your progress and a statement of your goal for the meeting. After the meeting send an email thanking your mentor for their time and advice. Commit to following at least one piece of advice immediately and then follow up with an email to thank them again and report that you have done so. Keep your emails short and to the point but personal with a focus on them e.g. “hope your cold is better” or “hope you had an awesome vacation” – not you. Don’t burden a mentor with your worries, fears, failures, or faux pas; call you mother instead, she would love to hear from you!
A mentor relationship is not forever. It should be brief and not longer than two years
A mentor relationship is not forever. It should be brief and not longer than two years. A good cadence for the relationship would be:
- Meet 3 times in the first six months.
- Meet 2 times in the next six months.
- Meet 2 times in the following six months.
- Meet 1 last time in the final six months.
A relationship that goes beyond two years is no longer a mentor/mentee relationship. It is a friendship and should be treated as such. Though we would like to spend time with our friends more often, we should expect to spend time at least 3 times a year, catching up – with brief emails between (don’t count on Facebook posts to remain connected.)
All relationships evolve and tend to redefine themselves every two years – you may let some friends go, and some friends may let you go. Cherish the ones that remain year after year, especially a former mentor who can remind you of your progress.
STEP 6 – MENTORS TWO AND THREE. Don’t be too quick to add mentors. Consider carefully the resources you will need. I will talk more about mentor and network relationships in a future installment: Networking is Not an Option – Part 4. It will provide advice you can follow as you consider your next mentor relationships. It will also help you understand how to start networking with others who are at the same stage in their development, so that you can help each other and in the next stage of development so you can aspire to move ahead.
NOW, AS YOU EMBARK ON ESTABLISHING YOUR FIRST MENTOR/ MENTEE RELATIONSHIP, you have much to do. Ask for help from people that know you, hone your purpose and goal statements, home in on the questions you want to ask – you may want to depart from the questions I suggest, but be sure you know what you will be asking and why. Be prepared to follow-up with good probing questions. Twenty minutes is not a long interview, but it is long enough if you are prepared.
READ MY UPCOMING ARTICLES to learn more about launching and advancing your career.
Jeanne Ritterson, ECIR, is a full cycle recruiter employed by a Fortune 500 company. She specializes in technical recruiting and likes to understand what drives candidates so that she can assist them launch careers that match their career goals.