How to find a mentor

All this mentor bullshit is all well and good Jimbo, but how am I supposed to go about actually finding one?

Fair enough. I’ve written quite a lot about how difficult it is to take the first step as a graduate or new entrant into ‘the industry’. Damn, it’s difficult even if you’ve been in the game for quite some time!

After 25 years I’ve still got a group of mentors that are part of my own personal mentor program. Some of these people don’t know that they’re part of this program, some of them don’t even know that they play the role of ‘mentor’ in my life and career.

I’ve approached them in many different ways, but there is a consistency to my approach that I’d like to share with you.

Start with a list of people you’d like to learn from

The important words in that sentence are ‘list’ and ‘learn’. Start by building a list (name, business, role). Make this list as long as you possibly can — this is a numbers game. You’re going to hear ‘no’ more than you’ll hear ‘yes’ — if you hear anything at all.

I mentioned that you should learn from these people — they’re not going to be people tomorrow (then again, you might strike gold) but rather they’re going to be people who have:

  • experienced a career you would love to mimic
  • had more experience than you in the field you’re seeking to work in
  • just landed a job that you would love to have
  • worked in and around your industry and have interesting stories to tell

Look through your network on LinkedIn. Go to your favourite websites, review the agency listing on SiteInspire, go through your local association’s industry listing. There are so many ways to find a list of creative agencies/design firms in your city.

Be open-minded and consider learning from people in other industries too. Look at my list of mentors, it’s quite diverse.

If they’re on LinkedIn, connect with them. If someone in your network on LinkedIn knows someone you’d like to learn from, ask them. Here’s a template:

Hi Jack,
I noticed that you’re connected with Jim Antonopoulos at Tank. I’d love to get an intro if you don’t mind? I’m interested in learning more about the work that Tank do.
I hope you’re well.
Regards,
Me.

Follow up a week later and build the list.

While you’re doing this ensure you’re learning about the people you’re adding to your list — the projects they’ve worked on, the people in the business, the business itself. Learn about who they are, what they do and why they do it.

Now do a values check, if your values align with theirs, keep them on the list. If your values don’t align with theirs, delete them and move on.

Ask them for 30 minutes of their time.

Now that you’ve got your list, start at the top and work your way down, contacting each person by email or LinkedIn. Here’s a template to get you started:

Hi [First Name],
I’m relatively new to the industry wanted to know if you had a few minutes spare where I could pick your brain about how I can build a career as a [insert job title]. Coffee/Tea, my shout.
I loved the work you did on [insert the name of a project this person has worked on] and loved how well you [insert something interesting you noticed about this project].
I understand you must receive so many requests for your time — I appreciate you taking the time to read and respond.
Kind regards,
[insert your name]

That’s it. Send it and leave it. If you don’t hear back, leave a note next to their name on the list and move on. If you do, you either have a meeting or you have a polite ‘no’.

If anyone is rude to you — you saved yourself a world of angst by sending one email. Imagine working for them!

Follow up

A week later, email (or send a LinkedIn message) again following up on your first request.

You’re not hassling them. You’re not being difficult. This is simple professional etiquette. Believe me, if you’re methodical and professional, people will respect you.

Here’s a template to get you started:

Hi [First Name],
Just a quick follow up on the email I sent you last week in regards to catching up for a few minutes to pick your brain?
I hope you’re enjoying your day today.
Kind regards,
[insert your name]

If you don’t hear back. Leave a note next to their name on your list and move on.

Repeat

Success is in being methodical and repetitive with this method. If your list is exhausted and you have no meetings. Go to the top of this page and keep building your list.

Let me know how you go.