We’ve been told countless times how important having a mentor can be to career success. But a less appreciated insight is that some people are easier to mentor than others. If you want to attract and keep great mentors, here’s how to stand out.
Not only does seeking out multiple mentors take the pressure off each one, “You need more than one mentor in today’s complex career environment,” says Wendy Murphy, a professor of management at Babson College and coauthor of the book Strategic Relationships at Work. Look for people inside and outside your workplace. Don’t write off people who are right around your level: “Peers are the most underutilized source of mentoring support,” Murphy says. As a corollary, don’t pursue someone just because she’s famous and successful. The ultimate way to impress a mentor is to show you know exactly how she can help you. Not everyone can.
“Good protégés take the lead in the relationship because it’s about their development,” Murphy says. Have an agenda in advance of every meeting with a specific objective of what you hope to get out of it. If you need to do research ahead of time, do it. You want to make it easy on people.
Melody McCloskey, the CEO of StyleSeat, a booking app for beauty and wellness professionals, mentors several young entrepreneurs. As the head of a company, “there are a lot of things fighting for your time,” she says. “If someone says ‘Hi, I would like you to be my mentor for this and that reason, here are the things I need, here’s the time commitment, and here are my expectations,’ you can very easily say ‘Great!’” More nebulous expectations are harder to deal with.
If a mentor gives you a suggestion of something to try, try it. If you disagree, “have a dialogue about it,” says Murphy. Don’t just drop the ball. Failure to follow through can quickly sour the relationship.
“If you say you’re going to do these four things and they don’t happen, the next time we talk it gets uncomfortable,” say McCloskey. Not only will your mentor think you’re wasting her time, she might think you’re a flake too. “You don’t want to feel like you’re someone’s parent.”
Go to her office or home. Join her for a 6 a.m. run or drive her to the airport. This is partly about making life easy for your mentor, but it also means she may be willing to meet more often. “Interaction frequency is one of the highest predictors of feeling close to someone,” Murphy says.
Ideally, both parties in a mentor/mentee relationship learn something from it. So be on the lookout for articles or people your mentor might find interesting. If your mentor works inside your organization, talk her up in your networks; being seen as the kind of person who grooms others is critical for cracking the upper echelons. And finally, say thank you. “It’s the littlest thing, but conveying appreciation is really important,” Murphy says. Lots of people don’t send thank-you notes. People who do make an impression.