Dear GovLoop: How Do I Get a Mentor?

Welcome to Dear GovLoop, an occasional column where members of the GovLoop staff take your burning questions and give you advice on how to figure out answers to thorny questions and situations. We’ll be doling out advice on everything from how to advance in your government career to how to ease into telework to how to get along with a difficult coworker. Got a question you want us to answer? Shoot a note to [email protected] with your name, question, and any relevant information. All questions will be kept anonymous!

In today’s column, we’re answering this question: How do you ask someone to be your mentor?

Dear GovLoop: I feel like I’m constantly being told to find a mentor to help me advance professionally and personally. It sounds like a good idea, but I really have no idea how to do that. I feel guilty asking someone to take time out of their busy life to help me. Plus, I honestly don’t know what the ask should be. Is it a one-time thing? A relationship over time? How do I ask someone to be my mentor? – Mentorless & Seeking

Dear Mentorless & Seeking: You’re right! Finding a mentor to help you grow is a great idea… but not just because people tell you to do it.

While you’re worried about a few different aspects of the mentorship request – guilt about taking someone’s time, the awkwardness of asking, etc. – it really sounds like your main hurdle is figuring out why YOU want a mentor. Understanding what you want to get from a mentorship relationship (and it is a relationship – we’ll come back to that) will help you solve all those other challenges.

Think about it. If you know what you want from your potential mentor – whether that’s advice on a specific career move, coaching on a skill, or just insight into their own experiences – you can make a far more thoughtful request. You’ll avoid wasting the mentor’s time or energy because you know what you want from the interaction. You’ll also be able to clearly set an agenda for the meeting, so the mentor can avoid wasting their efforts on superfluous preparation.

So, that’s step 1. Determine what you want to gain from a mentorship relationship.

Then, think about how you can return that favor. You might be able to clearly reciprocate the professional help by connecting that mentor to someone else in your network or putting in a good word with their superiors. You can also send a small thank you note or token after your first meeting. And don’t underestimate the value of simply showing a mentor what you’re gaining from their time and insights.

Lastly, keep in mind that mentorship is not a one-off meeting. It’s a relationshi, which can be as formal or informal as you’d like it be. You aren’t asking someone to sign a contract committing to being your mentor for the next 10 months. You’re asking someone to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship on terms that appeal to both of you.

That should make you feel a little better because you don’t have to start with a “Hi, will you be my mentor?” direct question. Instead, you should view your initial request as just the first step toward reaching that goal you’ve set for your mentorship. Ask your potential mentor to coffee to simply get to the know them. Then, set your goals for future meetings once you’re a bit more comfortable with the person and when you figure out what sort of relationship works for you.

Asking someone for coffee isn’t quite as scary, right? Just keep your goals in mind as you start your mentorship journey!

Interested in having Dear GovLoop answer your workplace or government question? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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