The importance of mentors – they help in decision making, building up your industry knowledge, by lending you the benefit of their name, reputation and, depending on the strength of your relationship and the situation, their professional muscle. Think of the ultimate mentor as a mix between the Godfather and Consiliere, but applied to careers and not a crime syndicate.
Depending on the degree to which you are familiar with your mentor—the particular mix of teacher/advisor/professional savant/friend that their role takes on, the way you communicate with them will be unique, like any relationship. However, for sake of generality, I will describe what is appropriate when you are just starting to correspond with this person.
Here is a scenario:
Someone, a professor, manager, random individual more advanced in their career than yourself, says “You know, you should really talk to ___. I’d be happy to connect you with them.” You should assume that this person is a potential mentor and your next step should be to do your research.
Try to cover the usual bases: Where did this individual go to school? What did they study? What was their career path? What is interesting about the companies that they previously and currently work for? This information is incredibly useful, but it is simply a starting point, the basics. The richest knowledge that you could ask for is in learning about your potential mentor’s interests—What organizations have they volunteered for? What boards have they sat on? Have they composed and articles or papers and if so, are they on topics that you find interesting and want to learn more about during your conversation?
Papers, or perhaps videos of your potential mentor giving an interview would be helpful as well, allowing you to decide what tone is appropriate in both your email and when starting off your in-person conversation.
A word of warning:
Despite your post-research knowledge, do not assume that you know your mentor well enough to write the same email to them as you would to a classmate or friend. If they choose to invite that level of familiarity, you will know in your first conversation with them. But assuming that type of relationship before you meet with them borders on disrespectful.
The following is an example of what not to do:
Hi (1) ________,
Hope you’re doing well and enjoying your work in ____. (2) I’ve been meaning to contact you for a while3 to see if you’re available to meet. I’m free this Saturday (4) if you’ll be in the city. Let me know, please. Thanks. (5)
Looking forward to hearing from you!! (6)
This is actually the first note a mentee sent to their mentor. Going through the numbers, let’s look at what is wrong with this.
The mentee should not have started a letter with “Hi” because right now they do not know the individual – this letter is supposed to be a professional introduction.
Again, far too informal an opening—and the person reading this could very well be having a bad day at work.
Why has the Mentee waited so long to reach out to the person. This implies that speaking with them wasn’t that much of a priority—so they shouldn’t necessarily make meeting with or helping the Mentee a priority either.
I hate to be blunt, but since the Mentee is requesting the Mentor’s time, it is all about the Mentor’s schedule. And Saturday meetings are generally for friends and family—in an introductory letter, which suggest meeting a professional contact on their personal day?
Thanks. This is polite, but overly friendly.
The extra exclamation marks are overly enthusiastic and read a bit…young. The purpose is not to overwhelm the individual you’re asking to meet with your friendliness; it’s to express your interest in speaking with them.
What’s missing: This should really be a gigantic number seven. After reading this, it leaves one large question: WHO ARE YOU and WHY SHOULD I GIVE YOU MY TIME? In this note, the mentee says nothing of who they are, who or what prompted them to reach out to this potential mentor, what they are doing (professionally or academically). No resume is attached (if so, it should be mentioned in the note).
The rest of the relationship is art, not science. Do you connect through shared interests or just personality-wise? Do you have a good rapport and are you able to speak frankly with them about your professional concerns. If so, you’re golden, and have started a relationship that can help you build a successful career.
By Xevion B., Wall Street Services Reporter