Mentoring. Something we all should do as part of our ongoing professional development, but many don’t. Why? Well, if you are like me, there are a number of contributing factors: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of putting yourself out there, fear of reaching out to a complete stranger, fear of having coffee with a complete stranger…the list could go on, but at the core of it is FEAR. Finding a career mentor is something I have wanted/needed to do for quite some time, but I have been putting it off. It was living in the “too hard” basket, until recently, when I decided to procrastinate no more and reach out to my ideal woman.
The woman I reached out to was the mentor of all mentors; my best case scenario. Her career has had showtime on the international stage; she has a long list of awards and an even longer list of boards she serves on. This person is highly respected in her field, all while she has managed to create a family. And yes, she is a woman. Sign me up!
Reaching out to my dream mentor:
On a Thursday night, I sent out an email — a cold-email, may I add. She had never heard of me, and we had never met. I was literally a stranger to her. Friday morning, no freaking joke, I had a reply! How simple was that?! I aimed high and got a slam dunk first go.
She put me onto her assistant and boom, coffee catch-up booked in. Why do I think I got so lucky? A few reasons:
- I did my homework.
- I wrote a very personal email. There was no way this email could have been mistaken for a generic template that I was sending out to 10 different people.
- I made the email about her! At the heart of it, we are all humans. We all want to feel special, appreciated, noticed and valued.
- I appreciated the importance of her time — there is nothing I hate more than people asking for something with no appreciation of the gravity of the request.
- I asked what I could do in return — even if she never takes me up on the offer, I have demonstrated that I am not the type of person to take, take, take. I want to give back. I want this relationship to be a two-way street.
If you want to see the email I sent, scroll to the bottom of this page.
Preparing for the meeting:
If you are thinking “pssssshhttttt, preparation schmeparation,” think again. This (presumably kickass) person has agreed to meet with you, so the least you can freaking do is walk into that meeting prepared.
Some key things I did in preparation:
- Did my research on the person: yes, I already knew a lot about her, but I could always learn more.
- Made sure I knew how to pronounce her surname: the devil is in the details.
- Prepared some talking points and questions: I never really used them, but they were there as a back-up if the conversation wasn’t flowing. Prepping questions also helped me flesh out what I wanted to know, making sure I would get the most out of the meeting and I wasn’t wasting her time.
The day of the meeting:
The day of the meeting, I was a clammy ball of nerves; I felt like I was interviewing for a job. So if that happens to you, too, do not stress…you are in good company.
Here are a few things I did:
- Woke up early to pay a little extra attention to my appearance: first impressions matter and like it or not, your appearance is a big part of that! It is also just another way you can demonstrate you value their time (i.e. you have made sure you are presentable and not looking sloppy).
- Arrived at the area of the meeting with plenty of spare time: I then sat in a cafe with a sparkling water, reviewing my notes and questions ahead of the meeting. It really helped to calm the nerves, feel prepared and informed with nothing left to chance. I was not going to be running in their complaining about how the traffic held me up, or that parking was sh*t, or that I couldn’t find the building. I was going to sashay in there calm and confident (and not sweaty from running late).
- Arrived at the actual meeting destination 10 minutes early. Again, this shows you value their time and that you are an organized and measured person; a person worth investing their time in. In my case, we met at her offices.
- Ensured I was polite and engaged with EVERYONE I came into contact with. You never know who you are talking to. If you are at a cafe, that could be your future mentor’s local cafe. Be nice to the barista, or they may tell your dream mentor that you are a crappy person. (Be nice to baristas, anyway.) Trust me, regular customers have really great and trusting relationships with their barista. If the meeting is an office — and I hope I don’t have to say this — be nice to the receptionist.
- Did NOT touch my phone while waiting. I am right on the line of Gen Y and Gen Z. Both generations have pretty crappy reputations that we need to work against. Acting entitled and/or glued to your phone fuels that crappy reputation. Be engaged, assess the environment your meeting will be taking place in, look at your surroundings, take in the vibe; all these things will help you.
- Gave a strong handshake with eye contact. Eye contact is my arch nemesis, but it is something that is required in a good handshake. It shows strength, presence, and respect. And the handshake is one of the first things you do. Again, you want to make that first impression a bloody good one.
- Did not fiddle, or slouch, or lose focus. During the hour I was in the meeting I was p.r.e.s.e.n.t. I made it a point to ensure my attention did not waver. You are probably sick of me saying this but it shows respect; for the person, their knowledge and their time. Plus, you only have a finite amount of time with this person — wouldn’t you want to get the absolute most out of it?
- At the meeting’s conclusion, I a) asked where I could take my dirty dishes, because I do not think I am above anybody (and neither should you) and b) gave another strong handshake with good eye contact. If all things went well, you probably want to meet this person again so make sure you make a strong, lasting impression.
After the meeting:
The meeting finished, and I was on an absolute high. Not only had this kickass woman agreed to meet with me, but we had a good connection, great dialogue, and I took away I lot. After the meeting I:
- Hopped into the lift and did a happy dance. [Disclaimer: I was the only one in the lift, which made it easier.] I am slowly but surely learning to celebrate wins and it feels good.
- Ordered a bunch of flowers to be sent to her as I walked back to my car. Anyone can send a thank-you email, but this person (who is worth a lot of $$$ per hour) deserves something a little bit more thoughtful. Plus, I am a sucker for personal touches. Give me a handwritten card over an email any day!
- Took action! In the meeting, the person gave me quite a lot of tips, things to check out and other actions to take. The day of the meeting is when you are going to feel most motivated so action as many things as you can!
- That’s it, folks! The chronicles of my first mentor meeting. I am feeling really positive about it all and have my fingers and toes crossed that this can turn into a lasting and mutually beneficial relationship…only time will tell.
I hope that this has inspired you to reach out to your dream mentor. I promise it isn’t as scary as you are making it out to be in your head.
Carly is a 20-something gal living in Brisbane, Australia. She started The Chronicles of Carly in late 2017 with the intention of sharing her experiences as a go-getting gal with the other go-getters out there. You can find Carly at www.thechroniclesofcarly.com or go to her Instagram & Facebook.
Image via Unsplash