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Want better mentorship? Be a better mentee.

The question I receive most often from schools, students, and entrepreneurs is about mentorship — will you be my mentor? — how do you recruit mentors? — how do you foster connections with alumni and students?

The answer requires addressing the right problem.

Great mentorship connections and outcomes are the responsibility of the mentee. Strong mentees do three things really well:

  1. Know your need.
  2. Follow up, and follow up again.
  3. Build your social capital.

Know Your Need.

What problem are you trying to solve? What are you stuck on? Asking to pick my brain is a sign you don’t have a good sense of your need. I know you want to get as much time as possible to ask questions, but you earn it one question at a time.

The people you want as mentors are super flipping busy. They don’t have time to sit down over coffee every week.

You have to make it easy for them to help you.

Try to smallify what you are asking for help with. For example, asking for advice on fundraising is too broad of a topic. Are you stuck on identifying the right funders? Need help with the pitch deck? A small request is to ask for an example pitch deck to learn from.

Follow Up And Follow Up Again.

A great way to build your social capital is through genuine follow up. The simplest and most important follow up is a thank you. But you can do far more to strengthen your network.

Share an update. Send a short personal email to people who have helped you. Let them know what you are up to now and how you used their advice. You don’t need to surpass a big milestone to share an update.

Sharing an update is how you earn the next conversation.

Don’t let the only time you reconnect with a mentor be when you need something.

Build Your Social Capital.

Social capital is a measure how well you can access the value of your network. In other words it’s not about who you know, but who will help you.

You are not trying to simply connect with as many people as possible. A good network is built with genuine connection.

When you invest time in genuine connection, people are more likely to help you and even connect you with other people who can help. Your most valuable connections are most often made through introductions.

A simple way to build social capital is the Five Minute Favor. Look for ways to proactively help your network. Then spend five minutes each day to act on your favor.

You might repost a job opening for a friend’s company, you might write a recommendation for a colleague or vendor, or you might make an introduction between two people, just remember to ask first.

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