Mentorship and the ability to learn from someone managing you is always something I look for in a position. However, sometimes a manager does not directly fulfill the type of knowledge I am looking for. Maybe I am interested in shifting career focus, or companies, or gaining a better understanding of how others succeeded in my type of role. I will invest my time and energy reaching out to those kinds of people so that I can keep learning.
What ways can you soak up some knowledge from people you admire or want to know better? These are some of the approaches I have tried.
Maybe they only have fifteen minutes to give you. Ask for a 15-30 minute window to ask the questions you really want to know. Especially if you are unsure of a career move or skill set you want to gain, this is a quick way to get specific knowledge about their company or career path.
Stay to the point and be respectful of their time. If you only asked for 15 or 30 minutes, make sure to stick to it. If they were respectful enough to respond to an inquiry, make sure to leave a good impression so they will accept the next person as well.
I liked to reach out to people for a quick chat to learn more about their particular company and to ask them about how they liked working there. I prefer the more genuine conversation over an email and it helped me to quickly eliminate companies that might be a not-so-great fit.
Meetup for coffee
If they have some more time on their hands, maybe they can go grab a coffee with you. This is a great way to see if a more regular mentorship opportunity would work for the both of you. While this may not always be the case, it’s still an informal conversation that can glean more information about their role, career, or even advice.
I had an unstructured meetup yesterday (I usually prepare questions specific to their role or my interest in them) where I had someone help think of different avenues I could pursue professionally. It was a great conversation since I could hear another perspective about a problem I had been unraveling myself. Like an unsolvable Rubik’s cube, I could only make so much progress. She was able to help me think in a different way because of her greater tenure in the marketing industry.
Formal mentorship program
Look in your professional community to see if there is a particular mentorship program that would be of interest. Since these usually match young professionals with someone they are trying to connect with, this is a great opportunity to select a particular type of mentor.
I signed up for the local AMA Mentor program and was matched with a woman who runs her own advertising agency. I requested someone experienced in marketing or advertising that had an entrepreneurship leaning, so I got to ask questions about the realities of running your own business. This is a more formal type of relationship, with the program dictating that we meet monthly, but it’s a commitment that is worth it if you have the time.
Informal mentor opportunities
If you’re lucky, there’s someone you’ve met at work our outside of work you just jive with. Maybe their at your dream company, in your dream job, or just impress you professionally. Whatever it may be, reach out and see if they could speak with you. Sometimes these informal opportunities can turn into longer mentor relationships.
I did just this during one of my internships. I thought one speaker sounded especially impressive, I really liked his background, and was interested in his career path, so I asked if we could sit down and talk about his role. He even brought a coworker so I could ask more questions! After a great first conversation, we eventually started having a monthly to semi-monthly check-in to see what’s going on and how he can help.
Spending extra time in a new environment around people that you want to be more like is especially rewarding. This is one of my favorite tactics, because it allows you to soak up some knowledge by watching people work rather than just asking questions.
I spent the last month volunteering with the Asian Wives Club, a global creative think tank. I met them by chance, but was excited to have a greater impact on the work they were doing. Just sitting in their offices, I felt like I took away greater insight into the business I want to be in and it was well-worth it!
After all of my conversations, my advice to anyone trying to go about a similar path of learning would be:
- Be prepared – Come with questions or an idea of an agenda, it demonstrates that you think ahead and it will help guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go.
- Be genuine – Be yourself and genuine in your motivations when you ask for time with someone. If you’re trying to make a potential job connection, be forthright in what you are looking for.
- Be curious – Always ask them more questions than they ask you, you want to demonstrate your interest and express why you wanted to meet them in the first place.
What other ways do you try and learn from people outside of your immediate connections?
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