The right mentor can absolutely change your life, but before you embark on the quest to find your Yoda, you need to do some reflection and planning.
What are you looking for in a mentor? Do you need a mentor that’s accessible? Would you benefit from a mentor that provides specific opportunities? Is your ideal mentor wise and patient like Yoda from Star Wars or cynical and brutal like
Tina Alberino Dr. Cox from Scrubs? Maybe you’d prefer a mentor that is more of a watcher who only provides guidance when necessary, like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
You know how you learn best and what type of direction you’ll respond best to.
What do you need? What are your professional goals and expectations? What do you need help with, specifically? Identify your values, work style, and skill gaps.
Who do you admire and does that person suit your current career stage? You’re more likely to get a positive response from someone you know as opposed to a stranger, so start your search there. Friends, family, colleagues, and your beauty school instructors are great potential resources, but don’t limit yourself to the beauty industry. (You can benefit greatly from mentors in any business. Their unique perspectives may give you broader insight that you can apply to your own career.)
Mentoring relationships that evolve naturally when based on previously established admiration and trust are more likely to continue positively for the long-term. That being said, don’t exclude people you don’t personally know from your list of potential mentors–just don’t expect miracles. It’s important to find mentors that are relevant to your current career stage. (If you’re a new student, a relevant mentor would be a senior student or instructor–not a 30-year veteran salon owner with a beauty empire.)
Once you’ve done the necessary research and assessed your needs, you can move forward with finding a mentor. As you do so, keep these tips in mind:
Get out and network. What if you can’t think of anyone that you know personally who would serve as a suitable mentor?
Join professional networking groups, take classes, attend industry conferences, and start interacting. Cast a wider net.
Don’t be an asshole. Nobody wants to mentor a jerk. If you’re rude, combative, or condescending, nobody is going to make time for you. Remember, mentors donate their time. They’re doing you a massive favor. Show appreciation.
Know how to approach. The best way to secure a mentor is to approach them properly. The fastest way to lose a potential mentor is to show that you haven’t done your research or to treat them like they have to “earn” you as a mentee. (For example: “I’m looking for a mentor. What are your qualifications?”) You have to prove your worthiness to the mentor, not the other way around.
Research your potential mentor in advance. When you contact a potential mentor, tell them how they’ve already helped you and why you admire them.
Ask. Some sources recommend against formally asking for a mentoring relationship, but they’re wrong. You absolutely DO have to clarify the relationship from the start. First, you have to let the mentor know that you’re seeking a mentor so they know how to direct you. Otherwise, you run the risk of just being a really needy person who only initiates contact when they require assistance. This will irritate mentors who don’t understand that you’re not simply trying to be their friend–you’re seeking their guidance. Second, your unlikely to get the most value from your mentor if you’re not clearly articulating your needs, setting goals, or tracking your progress. Your mentor won’t be holding you accountable either, which will hurt your performance. Your mentor is also unlikely to be getting anything from the experience if you’re not sharing your successes, so at some point, they may grow bored/irritated with you and drop you. A successful mentor/mentee relationship requires “managing up,” a process we’ll discuss in more detail in the upcoming post “How To Get The Most Out of Your Mentor.” “Managing up” means that the mentee takes ownership of the relationship. They communicate their needs, set goals, and organizes the information the mentor requires to direct them effectively and efficiently.
So yes. You need to ask, but, “Will you be my mentor?” just won’t cut it. A great way to propose a mentoring relationship is as follows.
“I have attended your classes and always look forward to your email newsletters. The information you’ve shared has helped me immensely and I consider you a role model. I admire your approach to X. I think we share very similar professional values and I’d love it if you’d consider mentoring me a bit. My background is X. My immediate goal is X and my long-term goal is X. There are several areas I’ve identified that require improvement, but my efforts haven’t yielded tangible or favorable results. I’m certain I would greatly benefit from your knowledge, if you’d be willing to share it.”
Have realistic expectations. People are busy. Don’t be upset if a potential mentor tells you that they just don’t have the time to take on a mentee. Mentors should be available to answer questions and provide guidance. Not all of them will have that time to donate. If you are turned down, thank the mentor and ask them if they have any recommendations.
Don’t force it. Don’t stalk potential mentors or try to force a mentoring relationship. The person is willing or they aren’t.
The relationship either works or it doesn’t.
Show that you’re worth their time–and won’t waste it. Do as much of your own research prior to asking questions. Show that you take your career and this industry seriously. Keep your communications short and to the point. Stay on-topic and keep your questions relevant to the mentor’s experience. In this industry, mentors aren’t mental health professionals. We’re not qualified to give you advice about your messy custody battle or your abandonment issues.
Having a mentor is about building your confidence, improving your career, and increasing your odds of success in the industry. It’s about making connections and building relationships with people who have influence and wisdom. Open your mind, be humble, and never be afraid to ask. You have nothing to lose.