The Best Way to Thank a Mentor . . .

Written by Jenny Blake

Thank You . . . is to follow-up on their advice. 

Sounds simple, right?

But in many people's quest to "FIND A MENTOR!" as many career advisors will prescribe, it's all-to-easy to forget that the most important part of a mentor-mentee relationship is taking meaningful action on their advice. (Only if the advice resonates, of course).

I'm a big fan of one-off mentors.

A one-off mentor is someone that you admire within your company or field who has achieved something you would like to achieve, or who knows more about an area of interest than you do.

Rather than putting the pressure on you to awkwardly ask a semi-stranger, "Will you be my mentor?" or putting the pressure on them to say yes to a long-term relationship with someone they hardly know, focus on short, targeted 15-30 minute interviews.

If your conversation goes well — you hit it off and you value their advice — you can always ask to follow-up at a later time with updates or questions. Some will say no if they are particularly busy (which is not something to take personally) or in some cases if they give advice for a living (this sometimes happens with coaches for example), but many will say yes as a way to "pay it forward" out of reverence to everyone who helped them along the way.

How to weave a quilt of one-off mentors:

  1. Make a list of 5 to 10 people you admire or who have expertise in an area that interests you.
  2. Email to ask if you can speak with them for 15 to 20 minutes. Mention why you admire this person, and why their advice would be helpful for you. (Note: a pet peeve of mine is asking to "pick your brain" -- it just sounds gross!). The key here is making it easy for him or her to say YES.
  3. Be curious. When you speak with him or her, ask broad, open-ended questions. Let the other person do most of the talking. Ask what s/he would advise you to do in your situation, what s/he would have done differently, what the keys were to his or her success.
  4. Most importantly, respect the time parameters you set! Do not go past your scheduled time. This will make him or her MUCH more likely to be willing to talk again in the future.
  5. Thank you, Part 1: Send a thank you note or email with how their advice specifically resonated. The best thank you card I ever received was a $5 Starbucks gift card that said, "Thank you so much for your time — your next cup of coffee is on me."
  6. Thank you, Part 2: Go do something with it! Take action! Then report back in a few weeks or a month and let him or her know about where you are now — this will surely make their day, and make them much more likely to want to give more advice in the future.

Don't worry about finding THE mentor of your life — it will likely happen naturally, and the mentor seed will be even more likely to blossom if you start broadly with the strategy above.

And you can even do this from afar — if you read a book or blog post then take action on it, email the author to let them know about it! You'd be surprised at how often this can spark an ongoing relationship.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments: Do you have a mentor? Maybe several?  What strategies have helped you reach out to people you admire, and even build relationships with them?