The Art of Asking for a Mentor

Many of the young women I talk to don’t have mentors. Most wish they did have one but don’t know exactly where to turn. According to LinkedIn, just over 50% of women 18-29 have mentors, which means almost 50% don’t.  Sometimes navigating the world of mentorship is a mystery. How do I get one? Who should I ask? What do I ask them? Many experts agree “the ask” is a key barrier:

“Many women are afraid to ask, it seems. Chalk it up to having a male boss and not feeling a connection to him, or feeling intimidated by some successful women we encounter. Professional women don’t know who to ask: Just over 50 percent of those without a mentor say it’s because they’ve never found someone appropriate to ask.” – Lindsay Olsen reporting on the LinkedIn Study in US News and World Report

A mentor is someone you can go to for advice, friendship, encouragement and guidance in navigating your career. They may come from inside or outside your company but they should be objective and have your best interests in mind rather than the interests of the company.

Many organizations have a formal mentor program in place where you are assigned a mentor. This woman believes that is key:

 “When you are employed you need someone you can go to who you do not directly report to who you could go to if you are not coping well or not understanding an issue. You need to be able to talk to someone sincerely without fear of consequences.” – Former CEO/COO, Director of Fund

Others feel it needs to be more of a natural development. That “assigned” mentors often are based on false connections (e.g. You’re a woman so is she). If you want a mentor and don’t have one here are some tips on how to ask and how to maintain a relationship.


1. Just ask. Say to a woman you admire that you would love to meet for coffee and learn more about how she accomplished what she has and discuss your career. Some women object to being asked to “pick their brain” as it seems one-sided.

2. Respect their time. Once you have established a connection let them know you are seeking a mentor and ask if they would be willing to get together once a month. Always ask how much time they have and what time is good for them.  Don’t start bombarding them with emails (beware of becoming an advice stalker). Do ask if it is okay if you email them every now and then with a question but put some parameters around it (e.g. I won’t send you more than one in a week). They may say don’t worry about it but they will appreciate you asking.

3. Consider reciprocity. Some women just want to help and get a benefit simply from giving back. Others get an intangible reward from a creative exchange – an interesting discussion rather than just asking away. Do your research and ask good questions.

Others appreciate reverse mentorship. What can you tell them about social media or the latest in pop culture? Recommend articles that may be of interest to them that they may not have seen if no in their direct line of media engagement. Or it could be how to motivate 20-somethings in the workplace.

In the end, it will become natural and a two-way engagement but you need to think of it as a relationship that needs to be nurtured. And realize there is nothing to fear from asking…40-somethigns would be honored. Even if they don’t have the bandwidth to do it they may know someone who does.

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