A good mentor can be hugely helpful in establishing and developing your career. But finding a good mentor isn’t easy. First, you need to identify the right person. Your mentor should be somebody who enjoys helping others grow, so that they get something out of the mentoring relationship, too. They should also be particularly skilled in an area where you know you need help.
Once you identify the right mentor, work hard to establish a relationship with them before you approach them about mentoring. You may want to start off with an informal conversation about their career and how they got started. Express your admiration for them, and try to gauge how they would feel about helping you in a more structured process. Focus on building the connection over time, so that when you ask them if they would like to mentor you, you already have a well-established relationship.
After you’ve laid the groundwork for a strong relationship with your mentor, it’s time to ask them for their help. Try to ask the question in person rather than via e-mail if you can. Even a phone call is more likely to generate a positive response. When you ask, be clear about what you’re looking for. For example, you might suggest a monthly one-hour meeting, during which you discuss specific topics that you suggest. Do your best to make the process as easy as possible for your potential mentor—they would be doing you a favor, after all.
If your initial approach doesn’t work out, or if you sense that your potential mentor is on the fence about dedicating time to helping you, be willing to back off. In order for the mentoring relationship to benefit you, your mentor should be excited about and enjoy the process. If they ask for time to think over your proposal, then by all means follow up, but never be pushy and don’t be discouraged if they ultimately say no. You can always ask someone else.