How Do You Find a Decent Mentor When You’re Stuck at Home?

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By Ruth Gotian, Reprinted from the Harvard Business Review

According to research, mentorship helps mentors and mentees succeed with job promotion, salary growth, and decreased burnout, and it also improves institutional retention. A recent study from Olivet Nazarene University illustrates that 76% of 3,000 surveyed American professionals believe mentorship is important, yet only 37% actually have a mentor. Equally as illuminating is that 61% of survey respondents explained that they never asked someone to be their mentor. Instead, the mentoring relationship developed naturally.

It is abundantly clear that mentoring relationships which develop organically are more fruitful. In fact, assigned mentors can serve more harm than good. While an assigned mentor can tell you which expenses you can or cannot reimburse or who to go to in order to get your IT questions answered, the best mentoring relationships develop over time and over a common cause, interest or purpose. But where does one find a person who can serve as a potential mentor and sounding board when we are socially distancing?

Here are six ways to meet potential mentors, even while you’re working or attending classes from home.

1) Meet interesting people, virtually. At the root of finding mentors is networking and, more importantly, developing relationships. Put yourself in a place where you can meet and talk to interesting people both within and outside your field. Consider starting or joining virtual events including webinars, happy hours, or online groups (think out of the box including your virtual yoga session, calligraphy class, or book clubs). These are places where you’re meeting people with a common interest.

On a webinar, for example, you can communicate by asking questions or making a comment either verbally or by typing it into the chat box. If someone else says something that resonates with you, be sure to follow up with them by connecting on social media and mentioning which statement was meaningful to you and why. If you read an interesting article, reach out to the author (their social media handles are often near their byline or at the bottom of the article) and tell them what specifically you enjoyed about their article.

And when you’re reaching out to someone, always begin by being authentic. In lieu of trying to contort yourself to meet perceived expectations, research has shown that being your authentic self is more compelling.

2) Reach out to your friends’ friends. When considering people to turn to for guidance, start by considering your immediate network and the connections they can offer. A good mentor-mentee relationship is characterized by mutual trust, respect, and empathy. Your mentor can even be a friend who has some work experience or a neighbor who might be in an industry you aspire to work in. The warm introduction can lead to a good discussion. Even though these may be people you have known, optimize the conversation by mentioning the specific challenge or area you’re looking for guidance on, not life in general.

3) Reconnect with people from your school. This is a great place to find a mentor since you and other fellow alumni have something in common already. Many of these could be dormant ties — people you used to know but lost contact with over time. Just like you, they and their networks have likely evolved with the passage of time. Reach out to them to see how they are doing and rekindle that relationship. Don’t ask for anything — simply reconnect. Discuss how they’re doing, what challenges they’ve been through at work, and how they overcame the challenges. There’s a possibility someone’s been in your shoes may be able to offer guidance on how you can navigate your career.

4) Give a talk. Never miss an opportunity to give a talk, whether if it’s at an alumnus meet up or a virtual team meeting. Besides practicing your public speaking skills, people are likely to approach you about your talk, a topic you are well versed in. I’ve had people contact me after my presentations just to tell me who they are and that they enjoyed my keynote. We learned a great deal from each other and enhanced our individual networks by way of introductions to other people. The communication ensued over months and soon we started to seek guidance from each other. It was a mentoring relationship that blossomed after a 60-minute keynote.

5) Host a virtual event and invite guest speakers. Use the power of new age tech to your advantage. If there is someone you are genuinely interested in hearing from, see if you can invite them for an Instagram or LinkedIn live where you would serve as the host. You could invite your peers, colleagues, and college classmates to this event. This will give you direct contact with the speaker for weeks prior to the event and a lifetime afterwards. I once hosted two amazing speakers. We got along beautifully, and years later, they routinely mentor me on developing and delivering my content to a broader audience.

6) Engage with authenticity on social media. Social media is a great way to find mentors, as most people engage with some platform to discuss and amplify their work. Connect with those you’ve previously met or whose work you admire. Engage with their posts on a regular basis so that your name is top of mind. Don’t simply say “great job” —instead, explain how their work is transferable to what you do.

You can also reach out to them to ask them a question about their work. Here’s an example:

“Dear                          , I saw your post on Twitter regarding your work on                         . I work on                    and was interested in how I might be able to implement your technique. Might you have 15 minutes for a quick phone chat to discuss? I’d be grateful for your perspective.”

These are all places where you can potentially meet people and develop relationships which can grow to one of mentor-mentee. It is important to keep the potential mentor in the loop of your progress and challenges and ask for very specific guidance over time. These relationships take time, so be open to meeting new people and let the mentoring relationship take its natural course.

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