Asking a Mentor for Advice: Where, When, and How to Ask?
Please welcome back our guest blogger, Alfredo Gutierrez, with Part 4 in his series of tips on finding and approaching mentors. Here’s his previous post, in case you missed it, and here’s the next and last post.
IV. The Big Ask: Where, When, and How?
After deciding who you want to be your mentor or adviser, it’s time for the most anxious part: asking him/her/them. One good way to take some of the anxiety out of it is to schedule a meeting with a question or topic in mind. Here are some ways that I’ve seen this work.
Important Safety Note: Of course, use good judgment and choose professional and public spaces that are safe and appropriate when meeting any mentor, even one who you know pretty well. So … probably not a good idea to meet at someone’s house or go out for dinner at a restaurant that could seem like a romantic “date.”
1. At the Person’s Office, During Normal Meeting Hours
With the professors with whom I have a good relationship, I have always started the very loose mentorship process by going to their office hours (or before/after classes, before/after a practice, meeting or event, or another time that they’re around) to talk about an assignment or feedback on something I’m working on, and then asking about a follow up meeting.
I also remember after having a mandatory meeting with my freshman advisor, I asked her if she would be okay with chatting about my first year in general, outside of a mandatory appointment. She initially told me that she would have to check her schedule, something that made me slightly anxious since my fear was that I had overstepped some sort of professional boundary. In reality, it was just a busy week for her. We ended up chatting in her office for an hour, and it was nice to know that she would just listen even if there was no real point to having a meeting with her.
The trick, for me, was to make the possible mentor feel like their time was valued and that I was actually eager to learn from them. It can be awkward, but you kind of have to push through it.
2. Right After the Person’s Work Shift
A family friend of mine did the same thing with the deacon at her church. While working reception for the front desk, the deacon would chat with her and ask her what her plans were for after high school. Because it was her first job, the deacon was really kind and welcoming as well as helpful in regards to what types of jobs she could get once she graduated high school. She told me she would ask him if they could chat once her shift was over, and the deacon was more than happy to do so.
It was a mutual exchange – she got advice from someone who had experience with college and long training to get where he was, and he got a chance to have his thoughts really heard by someone who took time out of their day to listen. All of this started from a very casual question to chat after work, until it turned into a regular thing.
3. Little By Little
A lot of teachers and coaches and other adults in leadership roles will be eager and excited to mentor you. As much as asking them to mentor you might be intimidating for you, they almost always will understand that intimidation. It helps to not explicitly “ask” them to mentor you, but instead try and grow a natural relationship with them through small interactions. It’ll feel a lot easier if you don’t expect a formalized relationship.
So my fourth tip is: When you approach an adult to mentor you, choose the right time and place, keep it light, and build the relationship through small interactions.
Approach your new mentorship with calmness as you look for small opportunities to chat and build trust.