How to ask someone to mentor you

Once you’ve thought through your choice, you’re ready to ask someone to mentor you. Here’s how to do it.

In your email:

Schedule an initial conversation. Ask your potential mentor if he or she can make time for an hour meeting with you. You don’t want to be rushed, and you want plenty of time for the other person to ask you questions about your goals, etc.

Clearly describe the guidance you’re seeking (The Ask). This is where that preliminary brainstorming on your part will help you articulate just what you have in mind. Describe what advice or guidance you are seeking and for what purpose. Is it to help you navigate your current department politics or are you seeking to apply to a different position? Are you thinking about going back to school and are not sure what area of study to focus on? Think about this and articulate up front what you are seeking.

Confirm your willingness to do the necessary work and follow-through. There’s nothing more frustrating than mentoring someone who doesn’t do the work necessary to take advantage of advice, so you want to make it clear to your potential mentor that you’re ready to commit the time, energy and effort to make the most of their counsel (and time).

Acknowledge and respect the individual’s time. Most people who are asked to become mentors are highly successful in their careers, which means they’re also very busy and much in demand. So it’s important for you to acknowledge that reality, and make it clear how much you appreciate their considering your request. This is also the way to provide a graceful “out,” letting the other person cite an overbooked schedule for declining your request. 

View an example of how to reach out to someone you already know.

If you’re reaching out to someone with whom you have no connection, go for an introduction along with any commonalities, specific interests or discussion points. Try to make a quick connection to hopefully pique his or her curiosity and spark interest in meeting with you. We advise you to ask to meet them for coffee or a brief meeting in their office first so you can both get to know each other. Aim for 30 minutes for your initial meeting.

Do not ask someone to be your mentor in your introductory email or in your first meeting. Like all relationships, building trust and rapport takes time. You may need to meet a few times and get to know them, learn about their current career and goals before asking them to be your mentor.

View an example of how to reach out to someone you don’t know (a referral, someone you have not spoken with or written to in the past).

Note: If you don’t hear from them, follow-up, but don’t hound him or her. Check in two to three weeks after your initial contact, but after that, you need to assume he or she doesn’t have the time to meet you right now. It is time to focus on the other two or more on your list of potential mentors. Try to maintain a relationship (even if it’s one way) by sending notes or articles that may interest him or her once every six months just to check-in.