By Natascha F. Saunders, CPS’09, EdD’19
“Why did you want to meet me?”
A business leader who had just left a Fortune 500 firm to join the ranks of higher education asked me this question at a lunch meeting, following a cold email introduction. Secretly, I knew I wanted this to result in a mentor relationship. However, when this leader arrived at the table, the greeting was not a hello, but the question, “Why did you want to meet me?”
I thought to myself at that moment this may have been a mistake.
The lunch was eventually full of unique and interesting conversations. After a few months, I was surprised to receive an invitation to a private reception hosted by this leader. I attended, even though I felt awkward, but I knew that although influential, this was not the mentor I wanted.
I realize that the real reason why I didn’t have a mentor that rocked was because I didn’t know how to pick one.
What I learned many years later is that selecting a rock star mentor who can help you to achieve more, requires research.
Here are 3 ways you can find a rock start mentor:
#1) Decide on the characteristics, background story, skills, education, reputation, social proof, personality, hobbies, and accolades you want your mentor to possess. Thinking about these ahead of time will help you seek out someone specific to your desired career trajectory.
#2) Determine where you will find this mentor. If you’ve listed out the answers above then you have a plethora of options such as: alumni, industry associations, meet-up groups, sororities/fraternities, church, volunteering for various causes, family/friends, asking your network for referrals, mentoring partner organizations, tennis/golf clubs, business clubs, training seminars, etc. The key is to be in an environment that allows you to find a commonality and mutual interest that can eventually lead to a one-on-one meeting.
#3) Manage the relationship like they are a VIP! This means scheduling meetings and having purposeful conversations with a clear focus for each meeting. Don’t waste their and your time. This is your opportunity to learn something new. Read up on any new developments in their life or the industry prior to the meeting. When they talk, make a note of areas where you can support them or provide resources. For example, one of my mentors is a lawyer – not my area – but he does annual fundraisers, and when I see that request come in, I automatically forward it to my social network. Lastly, create your signature thank you. Yes, that means not a standard email or text thank you. My signature thank you is a Dunkin Donuts gift card mailed to their work address with a handwritten card.
If you want a rock star mentor, then you must become a rock star mentee!
Mike Tarselli, Scientific Director at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, previously mentored four Northeastern co-op students at Novartis. I asked him three important questions regarding rock star mentors. Here’s what he said:
How can alumni find a rock star mentor?
Many professional societies and LinkedIn groups organize monthly events to encourage young professionals to interact with field experts. That’s a good place to start.
How do you manage your mentor/mentee relationship?
These relationships are ideally driven in stages. Up front, expectations should be made clear: what skill does the mentee want to improve, and what time and resources can the mentor offer? After this, the mentee would ideally schedule routine meetings and update the mentor by phone or email. Finally, a set term should be agreed to, usually a few months, after which the mentor should be prepared to offer critical and constructive feedback.
What are some ways a mentee can give back to their mentor?
Routine check-ins are best; mentors want to see the impact of the time spent on the mentee’s future success. Private thank-you notes also feel amazing. Finally, pay it forward: mentees mentoring others. It should come full circle.
Natascha F. Saunders is the founder of The Youth Career Coach Inc. and an Associate Director/Career Coach at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has a Master of Science in Leadership from Northeastern University, and is currently pursuing a Double Husky status as an Ed.D. candidate. She serves on the faculty for both the College of Professional Studies and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern.