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How to Approach a Potential Mentor

In my last blog, I wrote about the value of having more than one mentor. We also discussed the importance of self-reflection when establishing the goals of a mentoring relationship. The next obvious question is how to approach a potential mentor.

To get some advice on this question, I spoke with Professor Marie-Hélène Budworth, a professor with the School of HR at York University. As her current research program is focused on individual development within the context of work, I asked her for her thoughts on how to approach a mentor. Professor Budworth likened the process of establishing a mentoring relationship to the social networking process – it is essentially about creating a relationship with someone. Approaching a mentor can seem quite daunting and for some, downright nerve-racking and a very formal approach can heighten that anxiety. Instead of formally asking someone if they will be your mentor, Professor Budworth suggests something more casual with an invitation such as “I really respect your experience. Would you mind having a coffee with me to discuss XYZ?” (Insert a specific topic that you would like to get their advice and thoughts on.) As Professor Budworth points out, it makes sense to start the relationship off slowly; it allows both people an opportunity to assess if the relationship is a good fit. After the initial coffee or meeting, you can follow up with a thank you note and then reach out on another topic.

So again, it seems as if all roads lead to networking. With mentoring relationships, as with social networking, there is value in getting to know many individuals who possess different backgrounds and skills and establishing relationships with people that resonate with you. Approaching the mentoring relationship in this way will give you a rich group of individuals to access as you move through your career.

What are your thoughts? How have you approached a mentor in the past? How did that work for you? What advice do you have for others?


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