How to Find Your First Mentor
Whether you are considering breaking into a new industry, seeking to advance your career or just get a solid second opinion on a problem you're facing, having a mentor on hand can help! A mentor is a person who can share information about their own career path as a means to guide, motivate and provide emotional support and role modeling to a seeking mentee. A mentor may help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that help you advance your career. Since leaving General Assembly's Product Management program with my eyes set on my first Product role, I've sought out many mentors in each stage of my development in this career. Having a mentor early on can help encourage and motivate you and also act as a soundboard for your ideas. Like any relationship in life, it may take a little bit of work to build towards a solid mentorship but with today's technology and tools, getting in front of a prospective mentor can be very easy. You have to be willing to push towards it.
LinkedIn is Your Friend. LinkedIn has become a solid place for seeking out great mentorship. As a new PM in San Diego, I used my LinkedIn Premium subscription to the max by searching & finding Product Leaders in my area and reaching out to them with a nicely worded message laying out what I was seeking. Be short, sweet & to the point.
MeetUp & actually meet up. This may not apply to all industries but in tech we use meetups to host networking events to come together and share ideas in industry. UX has a meetup. Product. Engineering. Divers. Educators. You name it, there's a meet up for it. Scope out the MeetUps that are relevant to your industry and sign up for the next event. Show up and introduce yourself to the moderators or hosts if an opportunity presents itself. There is often time set aside at most meetups to ask if anyone is seeking jobs or looking for hires so you may find a potential employer willing to give you a few minutes after the event.
Collect Mentors Throughout Your Career. Many of my current mentors are people whom I have worked with in previous roles I've held. I keep in touch with them via email or text and contact them when I have a specific question. If you are working with someone whom you enjoy interfacing with, collect them as your mentor. Many of my best mentors have been former bosses.
Ask your friends. If you're having a hard time finding mentors through these channels, one thing you can definitely do is seek referrals from your friends. Everyone has a friend who knows somebody that knows somebody. Be willing to seek help within your own social network.
Peer Mentors. Collect your fellow teammates and colleagues as peer mentors. They are great for sharing ideas and can relate to many of the experiences you may be facing. While they may not be able to advise you on how to advance in a career, good peer mentors help you get out of your own headspace and provide confidence boosts along the way.
Be Open to Different forms of communication. Some of my best mentors are very busy which only serves as a testament to their badassness in the Product world. I often text or email them specific questions that they can quickly respond to on the fly. It's not always amenable to set up a 30 minute rant session, use their time wisely and come prepared if you do get some face time.
Lastly, creating a network of mentors takes time - for me, it was years. Start with one person you look up to as a mentor and go from there. Often, mentors will come and go based on their own life circumstances. With social media, it's easier than ever to maintain contact and reach out when you need it. Always be willing to step forward and network with new people, you never know who you may come across that might fill the shoes of a mentor or who you may mentor in return.