Adopt-a-Mentor Approach Better Than Direct Ask

Shellye Archambeau

Aspiring young professionals sometimes become overly aggressive in seeking mentors.  Last week, I received an email from someone I had never met asking if I would serve as her mentor.  Despite being a mentor to many, I don’t recall anyone ever asking in such a direct, impersonal manner.  The best mentoring relationships just happen. They’re not over orchestrated.

Over the past five years, I’ve written several posts about mentoring, including topics such as mentor etiquette and how to properly tap mentors.  I was pleased to read similar advice yesterday from Shellye Archambeau, chief executive of MetricStream, a firm that helps companies meet compliance standards.  In the Corner Office column of The New York Times, Ms. Archambeau says, “Throughout my career, I had a lot of mentors, and I just adopted them. What I found is that, especially if you’re young, when you go up to people and say, ‘Would you mind being my mentor?,’ their eyes widen. They literally step back. What they’re thinking about is the commitment and time involved if they say yes. And time is something they don’t have. So I would not ask them to be my mentor, but I would just start treating them like it. And that worked very well for me.”

Ms. Archambeau said it’s “really simple” to adopt a mentor.  “Let’s say you interact with someone, and at the end of the conversation you just say: ‘I’ve got just a quick question for you. Any thoughts on how … ?’ It has to be quick, and it can’t be something big. And usually people will throw out an idea. I know this sounds odd, but I find that a lot of people don’t take the advice they’re given. But I would do what they suggested, and then follow up with them and say: ‘Hey, thanks so much. Here’s what I did. It worked out great.’ Now what happens? They feel pretty good about giving you the advice because they had a positive impact. So when I reach out to them again, they’re more likely to actually respond to my e-mail or my call. And then they might be more willing to have coffee with me.”

I can think of dozens of mentors I’ve adopted over the years, and vice versa.  This approach works far better than a formal relationship where one or both parties may have impractical expectations.


9 thoughts on “Adopt-a-Mentor Approach Better Than Direct Ask

  1. Would it be better to adopt a mentor whom you don’t know than one that you have known for many years?

  2. I really like this approach of contacting and working with a mentor. I worked through our alumni association and they paired me with a mentor from the Washington Post who I still am in contact with and gives me great advice on what to do after graduation.

    1. Justin raised an excellent point. If alumni have volunteered to serve as mentors, don’t miss out on that opportunity to connect.

  3. I understand this point completely. No one just walks up to a person and asks, “…will you be my friend?” That would just push people away. It starts with small communication and builds from there.

    In saying that, what is the best way to start a relationship with a professional by not being too direct but also making an effort to reach out and connect with that possible mentor?

  4. Katie took the words right out of my mouth. Who presents a formal proposition when attempting to secure a personal relationship? The best relationships develop gradually, they don’t begin with commitment, instead trust is earned first and then maintained.

    This just goes to show that good communication skills are not only required for holding a job in the mass communications field, but they can be just as crucial when attempting to network in hopes of finding one.

  5. Would you advise “interviewing” your mentor before selecting? Should you have a casual meeting such as lunch?

    Blake S. Amick
    Southeast Missouri State University

    1. Blake: You should talk with your prospective mentors, but don’t make them feel you’re interviewing them. Don’t over-orchestrate the process.

  6. This post has a lot of very valuable information within it. I agree, that sometimes the formal inquiring of a mentor isn’t the best route. Over the past few years, I have had a select few individuals who have become mentors for me. Each of these have occured without me really asking them to be my mentor. I found in them qualities of wisdom and sought to learn from them. I love your advice of treating them like your mentor. I feel that is essential in building a good relationship with your future mentor. Thank you for this informative post.

  7. This is very helpful! I currently have a mentor through PRSSA and I am always unsure/uncomfortable when it comes to asking her questions about resumes or her current job. I think this lays out some very important guidelines.

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