You’d like to acquire a mentor to help guide you in your career – but asking someone can be daunting (even more so, when that person is more experienced or well-known!).
Tell your nerves to take the day off – because, chances are, the person you ask will say yes! Potential mentors will likely be flattered, honoured, feel a sense of professional commitment to support you – and will want to “pay it forward”, to thank those who mentored them along their own journeys.
I’m in a position of great fortune and expertise when it comes to mentors. I’ve asked many people (both dietitians and non-dietitians) to be my mentor, and I’ve also had the honour of being asked to be a mentor by many others. So – without further ado – here are my best tips on how to find a great mentor:
Know what type of mentor you seek. Think about why you want this person to be your mentor. Are you looking for someone to help you with your clinical skills, leadership qualities or business acumen? Be specific. Write down some SMART goals that you can share with them. How can this potential mentor help you with these goals?
Identify potential targets. Ideally, look for a mentor that you already know, such as university lecturer, student placement supervisor or a dietitian with whom you’ve volunteered
Show respect by getting up to speed. Before you approach someone, do your homework on him or her. It’s flattering, helps ease conversation – and you can discover mutual interests. Ask a friend who knows the person; Google them and their work; or look at their social media presences. What interests do they have – and more importantly, share with you? How can you help them advance their goals? Social media is quite genius for getting to know someone, but don’t be a fly-by-night: follow the person for a while, interact with likes and comments, be both genuine and interested, and work to develop an ongoing relationship
Take the first step in reaching out. Look for someone in your network who knows your potential mentor, and ask for an introduction. LinkedIn can be helpful for this. Another route: are they active on Instagram or Facebook? Try connecting there. Or if they’re social media-averse, send an email or attend an event where you know they’ll be present.
Keep it real. Ensure every point of your communication is personal and not generic. Show you’ve done your homework. Compliment him or her on an aspect of their work that you genuinely admire. Share your own work, achievements and interests, to engage the person in learning more about you. Ideally, the person will already be familiar with you from interacting with you previously.
Don’t waste their time. Be clear on what you are asking a potential mentor to do, including the time commitment involved. Are you looking for them to meet with you once a week or once a month and for how long? Will you meet face to face or over Skype? Let them know a little bit about you, and outline exactly what you would like assistance with; provide a few options.
Don’t just take – give, too. Has your potential mentor just launched a new book or program that you could help promote? Can you assist them in growing their social media presence? Find a way to reciprocate by offering a service in return.
Stay realistic. You will be surprised: most mentors say yes! If they say no, it’s usually because they are too busy to ensure a quality mentoring relationship. Don’t be discouraged. If this happens, look for an alternative mentor, continue to build the relationship and perhaps try again in the future.
To find a mentor, it’s smart to put time into preparation and build a relationship, instead of springing yourself on the person and seeming opportunistic. Your goal is to create a genuine connection that will last for the long haul. Commit to it, do it right — and you will reap the rewards.
Case Study: A Successful Request to Mentor
As mentioned, I’ve been on the receiving end of many requests to be a mentor, usually via email. Very few result in an outcome, though, because they are not personalised enough to create a connection with me.
However, I’d like to share an example of one email I received that resulted in a meeting with me, in the hopes that it can be useful for you, as well.
It was from a new graduate, asking me to be a mentor. I don’t currently take provisional APD mentees, but this email resulted in a meeting. Why? Because the person was clear in outlining their goal in working with me, including the time commitment. They did their homework and were familiar with DC, including having volunteered their time. And, critically, they outlined why they chose me — and how I could help them.
I hope this email finds you well. I can appreciate how busy you are running Dietitian Connection and championing #KnowLoveFood, so I’ll get right to the point – I am seeking a mentor for my provisional APD year and I was hoping you might consider partnering with me.
A bit about me:
- X University – Bachelor of Nutrition & Dietetics (First Class Honours)
- Dietitian Connection Student Rep (for Facebook page)
- Before studying dietetics, I worked for a number of years in X career
- Throughout uni, I worked as a receptionist
- I am currently employed full time in a Y role at X
- Professional interests include where the dietetic profession is heading from a technology perspective, nutrition information in the media, gut health, nutritional genomics, supplementation, product development
- I’m an introvert and I love learning and reading.
Why I think we’d work well together:
- I was inspired by your interview on the Dietitian Connection podcast, particularly when you articulated that early on in your career you felt you needed to have a different personality (i.e. extroverted) to lead and succeed (thank you for sharing this, it really helped me to hear this)
- My career aspirations are non-traditional – I currently work completely online, I am interested in product development (particularly nutritional supplements), I want to improve my ability to understand research (and statistics) and be able to interpret these appropriately for the general public, and a PhD is something that I think I would like to do in future.
- I am more than happy to visit you at your office for monthly catch-ups at a time convenient to you, should you be able to commit to a mentoring relationship with me.
I completely understand if it’s not feasible for you to commit to this – thank you for all that you are doing with Dietitian Connection (I really love the webinars!) and for the profession. I look forward to hearing from you.
By Maree Ferguson, Director, Dietitian Connection
Edited by Laura Byrne