In my last post, I shared different resources for finding a mentor. The next step is cultivating a relationship. If you find your mentor through a mentor-mentee program, the initial conversation can be easier. Some programs have set discussion topics or may do an e-introduction. Regardless of how you meet your mentor, most of the time it’s on you, the mentee, to start the relationship.
- Introduce yourself: My recommendation is keep the introduction to a short and sweet email stating how you got their contact information, who you are, why you are reaching out, and request a meeting. You can include a resume to provide additional details. Mention any commonalities like alma maters or group affiliations, but keep it concise. When requesting a meeting be specific about how long you want to meet, whether you would like to be in person or via phone, and a timeframe of the meeting. [Author’s note: I’m writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like reading long emails. The longer the email and the vaguer the ask, the longer it takes me to reply. Everyone is different.]
Dear Ms. Where I. Want-to-Be,
My friend, Jane Q. Boss, recommended I reach out to you about career opportunities in transportation planning. I’m currently a dog park planner at ABC Planning Company. My resume is attached. I’d like to take you to coffee to discuss how I can transition into transportation planning. Do you have availability the week of October 10th or 17th for a mid-morning coffee meeting near your office?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Fabulous N. Training
P.S. I’m a fellow Terp!
- Respond to their email: Since you kept your message concise and included a meeting request for a specific time period, the person is likely to respond with a date (possible dates) when they are available. Your next step is to respond within a business day to confirm the date works with your schedule. I have had people do a great job of introducing themselves, but the relationship never gets going because they do not respond to my email in a timely manner (over a week later) or not at all.
- Meet: Now it’s time for your initial meeting. Since you reached out to the person, you’ve already done some homework and know the basics of where they went to school and places they have worked (LinkedIN and Google are your friend!). Spend a few minutes of the conversation getting to know more about them and sharing more about who you are. You’ll want to have questions prepared that get to the heart of why you want to meet with them. Remember, you’re asking them for their wise council, so use your time with them wisely. If there’s a connection, ask them if it’s okay if you reach out to them periodically with questions AND what is the best way to keep in touch.
- Send a thank you/follow up: Within a day or two follow up with a thank you email or if you really want to impress them send a handwritten thank you note (I can remember every single person that sent me a handwritten thank you note. Emails not so much). Thank them for the time and advice. If your mentor offered to help you with something or your promised to send something, now is the time to follow up. For example, if they offer to look at your resume, email them a copy.
- Keep in contact: As I mentioned in my previous post, each mentor-mentee relationship will look different. After your initial meeting, you all may only talk again once or twice. However, it’s possible that you have a great relationship and meet regularly (every other month, quarterly, semi-annually). Schedules aside, in general, the frequency of your meetings will depend on how much you keep in contact with your mentor. Keeping in touch could be sending a quick email about an article you think may interest them or a paper you wrote, replying to their social media posts, inviting them to an event to speak or be an attendee, or meeting them for coffee.
These five steps are suggestions based on what has worked for me and my mentees. Why five? I could’ve written more, but I prefer numbers divisible by five (we all have our quirks). After writing this post, I realized I never addressed WHY you should have a mentor. I guess I’ll be writing another post soon!
Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.