How to Ask for Mentorship: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Ask for Mentorship: A Step-by-Step Guide
portrait of Melissa Venable, Ph.D.
By Melissa Venable, Ph.D.

Published on April 2, 2021

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Mentors offer college students critical support and guidance in all aspects of their lives, from coursework and classes to jobs and extracurriculars. But even if you already know the benefits of having a mentor, actually asking someone to become your mentor can feel daunting. Whom should you ask, and how?

In this step-by-step guide, we go over how to ask for mentorship and identify potential mentors.

How to Ask for Mentorship in 4 Easy Steps

Step 1: Identify Possible Mentors

Consider different types of mentoring relationships, from those that provide career advice and recommendations to those that focus on general encouragement and keeping you grounded. You may even already have someone in mind. If not, though, the first step is to identify one or more people who could work well in this role.

List of Potential Mentors

A current or former teacher or professor A recent graduate or alum from your college A current or former employer or co-worker A classmate or peer with similar career interests and goals A family member or friend who works in your field An employee at a company you wish to work for A professional you met at a job fair or other networking event A professional in your field whom you connected with via LinkedIn

Try to think of people who already know you and who are familiar with your academic and professional goals. Ideally, they'll also have the expertise you're searching for. Has anyone in your professional network benefited from having a mentor? Perhaps they themselves are now ready to become mentors. Make sure, too, that anyone you're considering has ample time to devote to mentoring.

Your college's alumni network can be a helpful resource to start with.

Step 2: Prepare for the Conversation

Next, consider your expectations for having a mentor. It's best to think of mentorship as a professional relationship with a level of formality or structure. Once you've done this, you can work on developing a proposal to present to possible mentors in a conversation that invites them to consider the opportunity.

Your proposal to your potential mentor might address the following:

Communication

How will you two connect — online, in person, or through a combination of methods? Create a plan that includes the tools you'd use and how often you'd like to communicate, whether that's through phone calls, email, Zoom, or face-to-face meetings.

Your Goals

What kind of support are you looking for? Networking, career and school advice, job shadowing, collaborative projects, promotion, career transition, and resource recommendations are just some of the potential outcomes. Decide what your top priorities are, but know that these might change over time.

Your Role

Acknowledge your role as a mentee. Explain that you're not only interested in receiving advice but also ready to do the necessary work. Being mentored isn't a passive experience. Connect your goals to the actions you're prepared to take under a mentor's guidance.

Step 3: Make the Ask

You've probably heard the saying, "You don't get what you don't ask for." While some people may volunteer to serve as mentors, you'll likely need to take the initiative and ask your chosen person directly to be your mentor. Once you've identified possible mentors and created a proposal based on your needs and goals, it's time to have the conversation.

If you can meet with your prospective mentor in person, set up an appointment to talk. Cafes are great places to get to know someone and ask for mentorship. If you can't meet face to face, consider using Zoom or another video conferencing platform.

If a live conversation just isn't possible, send your request over email or in a LinkedIn message (assuming that's how you normally correspond with your prospective mentor).

Examples of Asking for Mentorship

Build Upon Previous Conversations: As you may remember from our last conversation, I want to move forward with [an academic program / an internship / a job opportunity] to help me [learn more about a particular field / gain important skills / move in a new career direction]. Our conversations so far have been extremely valuable, and I think I could benefit from additional guidance through mentorship. Would you be interested in discussing this possibility with me? Introduce Your Proposal First: I'm interested in working more closely with a mentor. Would you be willing to consider that role? If so, I'd like to share my goals for that work, a tentative plan for meetings and conversations, and my commitment to following through with our ideas and your recommendations. Express Appreciation for the Time Required: Your work has been inspiring to me as [a student / a new professional] in [name of field or industry]. I realize your calendar is often full and appreciate the time you've invested in me so far. Would you be willing to schedule a meeting with me [once every two weeks / once a month] to discuss [academic opportunities / professional development opportunities]? If so, I'd like to talk more about how we can organize our time so that it's a meaningful experience for both of us.

Step 4: Show Gratitude

Whether your prospective mentor's answer is yes or no, be sure to thank them for considering your request and taking the time to meet with you. Remember that it's not uncommon for busy professionals to decline becoming mentors.

What's more, not agreeing to be a mentor doesn't mean they're not interested in staying within your network and offering help when they're available. You can continue to learn from your connection, and who knows — they may even be able to refer you to someone who is ready and willing to take on the role of mentor.

Feature Image: kate_sept2004 / E+ / Getty Images

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