What Is a Mentor and How Do I Find One?

What is mentoring?

Building a relationship with a variety of mentors will be very beneficial to your professional journey. Mentors can guide you in the direction you’d like to go, teach you lessons they’ve learned from their experiences, add direction for complicated projects, and introduce you to others that can help you move forward. (Note that you may experience a range of mentoring relationships throughout your career. For explanations of different types of mentoring relationships, see our resource: “Mentoring Models.”)

Creating an Appropriate Profile Presence

Before you seek a mentor, be certain your social profiles and employment documents are up to date. On LinkedIn, your headline, about section, and profile photo should be carefully presented. Your profile picture is a good place to start. Is your face fully visible? What is in the background? Keep your picture simple; the focus should be you! If you don’t have a recent headshot, head over to the CLS photo booth (on the second floor) and get a new picture in just a few minutes.

Finding Mentors While in College

You are not limited to only one mentor. In fact, you could have a different mentor for each aspect of your professional, personal, or civic life that you want to advance or develop. Connecting with an alum can be especially useful because you have a shared college experience. If you find someone who has a career trajectory similar to your aspirations, connecting with that person can be illuminating in terms of next steps during and after college.

It is good practice to spend some time thinking about the skills, knowledge, experience, and personality traits that you are looking for in a mentor. While you will be able to search for mentors based on some demographic criteria, you may have to read through the content in LinkedIn profiles in their entirety in order to get a sense of whether a potential mentor fulfills your criteria. Remember that, depending on your class year, you may be able to have several mentors over the course of your time at Grinnell. As a result, your criteria may change as you grow. It is good practice to evaluate your criteria for a mentor each time you think about seeking someone’s help.

Below are some variables for you to consider

  • Age. Is it important for your mentor to be close in age, early in their career, or a more seasoned professional? The goals you have for the relationship will help to determine your answer. For example, if your goals are to apply to grad school, it may be more appropriate to speak with someone who has gone through the process more recently. If your goals are related to your future career path, it may be more appropriate to connect with someone who is more seasoned as a mentor. Even so, both options may have very different perspectives that could be valuable. Someone early in their career may be able to speak more readily to the realities of the day-to-day aspects of a job or may be able to give their firsthand account of the application process. Someone more seasoned in their career may offer a broader perspective or share interviewing insight as a hiring manager.
  • Common Interests. Is it important that your mentor like all the same things that you do, such as sports, music, books? Is it important they share the same academic pursuits? While sharing a common interest helps to build rapport and provides immediate topics of conversation, a mentor who has different interests than you may encourage you to develop new interests and explore topics or events that you may not otherwise have considered or been exposed to previously.
  • Experiences. What types of experiences do you want your mentor to have in their background? For example, is it important that your mentor share your major or work in the industry in which you are most interested? Is it important that your mentor have pursued a graduate degree or belonged to the same student organization(s) as you?
  • Identity. Is it important for your mentor to share identity(ies) with you or is it valuable that they have differing identities offering different perspectives? Sharing identities with your mentor may provide you a perspective of how that factor has played out in their experiences. For example, an international student searching for a job or internship may have to explain their visa status during their search, so it may be helpful to have a mentor that has also had to navigate this situation in their own career. However, differences in these areas can provide valuable perspective that may open your eyes to diverse views of the world.
  • Personality Traits. Are you looking for particular personality traits in a mentor? For example, it may be important to you that your mentor have a good sense of humor or perhaps you prefer they conduct themselves very professionally in their demeanor.

Reaching Out

Before you ask someone to be a mentor to you, make a connection and seek to build rapport. Consider inviting a potential mentor to coffee or, if they are far away, a video chat. Cold email outreach is another essential skill. Learn more using these excellent CLS resources:

It is a best practice when reaching out to err on being formal in your correspondence. Alumni and employers often state that when a student does not observe professional courtesies in their communications it negatively impacts their impression of the candidate and level of seriousness. Some common mistakes are lack of punctuation, improper use of capitalization or lack of capitalization, lack of formal greeting, use of informal tone, poor grammar, misspellings, and use of internet slang and/or emoticons. It is equally inappropriate to send a general or blanket email when attempting to make a personal connection with an individual.

Be prepared to be up front about looking for a mentor, what investment of time you’re requesting, and what your goals may be. After you’ve enjoyed an introductory exchange with your potential mentor, be prepared to ask that they serve as a mentor for you, outlining what you’re hoping to accomplish. It’s note a reflection on you if someone declines. If that happens, thank them for their time and move on.

Tips for writing your mentor request:

  • Use a formal greeting (e.g., Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. Smith).
  • Briefly introduce yourself and consider sharing information that may not be readily available online.
  • Indicate what about them encouraged you to send a request to meet.
  • Be prepared to indicate that you are ultimately looking for a mentoring relationship and briefly state your goals. However, invite them to interact with you in person or virtually in a brief informational interview first.
  • Thank them for their time.

Who are your existing mentors?

You’ve already got some. Family members, friends, work supervisors, CLS advisers, professors, and even your friends are all a part of your network. Some may already be serving to give you advice and help you reflect on your progress. Cultivating a relationship with an alum or another professional you haven’t yet met is a formal version of the relationships you already have.