Three strategies for connecting with would-be mentors

The first step to a fruitful mentoring relationship is recognizing its potential value. Now that you’ve done that, think about how to reach out to would-be mentors. These three strategies should help get you started.

Impress, then request. The easiest way to interest a would-be mentor in providing you with professional guidance is to let your work do the talking. If you’ve done impressive work relevant to hers/his, make sure (s)he’s aware. If you’re unsure, be sure to reference your accomplishments when you interact. This will demonstrate what the mentor could gain from your relationship and will help pave the way for mutually beneficial interactions down the road. 

Slow and steady. If you have a specific mentor in mind, you must build the relationship with her/him. Sending someone an email with the subject line “Will you be my mentor?” would be the equivalent of asking a love interest to move in with you on the first date. Instead, get to know her/him. Look for opportunities to be generous — invite her/him to coffee or lunch. Start small and see where it goes. After a bit of rapport has been established, you should feel comfortable asking for more pointed advice. I recommend steering clear of the words “Will you be my mentor?” unless you are participating in a formal mentoring program and that question is expected.

Admire from a distance. Someone can be your mentor without even knowing it. If someone in your work division is a stellar presenter, try to attend as many of her/his talks as you possibly can. Take notes on what exactly captures your attention. Is it her/his body language? Accessibility? Energy? Study this unknowing individual and practice some of her/his techniques before your next presentation. 

About Erin Thomas

Erin L. Thomas, Gender Diversity Specialist, works to develop systematic approaches for the representation, development and advancement of researchers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers at Argonne while engaging both female and male staff. Dr. Thomas has a PhD in Social Psychology from Yale University, where she conducted research on race and gender perceptions in workplace, economic and social policy contexts. She also received bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and International Studies and a master’s of science from Yale.
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