Mentorship

How to ask for mentorship at work (without sounding weird)

Asking someone you consider a role model to be your mentor is daunting. What if they say no? Will I look like an amateur? In this article, we'll put these worries to rest by sharing actionable tips so you're ready for the big ask.

Nick Saraev

Published on 

February 1, 2023

Updated on 

Time to Read

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Being around seasoned professionals with an abundance of knowledge and expertise is great, but it won't benefit your career if you don't find mentors in them.

But how do you approach a senior colleague and ask them to be your mentor? How do you even bring up the topic without sounding like a total novice? And what if they say no?

It can be very awkward and intimidating to ask someone to be your mentor at work, especially if you’re early in your career. But finding a mentor is a crucial step in your professional development – that is, if you really want to learn and grow in your role.

In this article, we've put together some tips on how to ask someone to be your mentor at work without sounding weird. And if your company doesn't have a mentorship program in place, we've also got some advice on how you can ask your boss to start one.

Why do you need a mentor? 

When compared to non-mentored employees, mentored employees enjoy several benefits like on-point guidance, expert support, and opportunities for advancement.

There have been countless studies showing the benefits of mentoring, from confidence to mental health to promotion rates.        

  • Get paid more: 25% of employees who have mentors had a salary-grade change, compared to only 5% of workers who did not participate. Mentors provide guidance on how to navigate the workplace, negotiate for raises and promotions, and develop the skills and knowledge necessary for advancement.
  • Improved career satisfaction and commitment: Mentors can help you identify your strengths and passions and align your career goals with your personal values and aspirations. This can lead to increased job satisfaction, engagement, and commitment to your career.
  • Access to meaningful interpersonal support: Mentors serve as your sounding board and confidant, providing emotional support, feedback, and guidance in certain situations. They can help you overcome the challenges of the workplace and provide a perspective on how to manage difficult situations.
  • More promotions: Mentees are promoted 5 times more often than those without mentors. So getting yourself a mentor highly increases your chances of getting a promotion.
  • Feel informed about your future and the future of the organization you work for: A mentor can provide you with insights into the future of your organization and the industry, helping you to make informed decisions about your career path and stay ahead of the curve.

Tips for choosing someone to be your mentor

  • Identify your goals: What do you want to achieve through this mentorship? Are you looking to improve your skills in a certain area? Are you looking for guidance on how to navigate the corporate landscape? Having a clear idea of what you want to get out of the relationship will help you choose the right mentor.
  • Define your value as a mentee: Think about what you bring to the table as a mentee. What are your strengths? What are your areas of expertise? Being clear about your value as a mentee will help you communicate that to potential mentors and make them more likely to say yes.
  • Analyze their core values: When choosing a mentor, it's important to consider if they align with your values. Are they someone who is passionate about helping others? Do they have a strong work ethic? Are they someone you admire and want to emulate? By choosing a mentor whose core values align with yours, you'll be more likely to have a successful mentoring relationship.
  • Research their connections: Take the time to research your potential mentor's connections. Who do they know? What are their areas of expertise? Knowing this information will give you a better idea of how they can help you and how you can help them.

Qualities of life-changing mentors to look for

Great mentorship doesn't just happen. It requires mentors with certain characteristics to be effective. Following are the qualities of life-changing mentors.

  • Self-awareness: A self-aware mentor is someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses. Self-aware mentors are always open to your feedback and thus help you grow in a way that is tailored to your specific needs.
  • Empathy: An empathetic mentor can understand and relate to your experiences and offer guidance accordingly. They provide support and guidance in a way that feels authentic, relatable, and genuine. They always put themselves in your shoe and see things through your eyes.
  • Passionate about helping others: A mentor who is passionate about helping others is someone who will go above and beyond to support you. They’re truly invested in your success, always root for you, and will be there to provide guidance and advice whenever you need it.
  • Active listeners: A good mentor is always an active listener. They are fully engaged and present when mentees are speaking, which enables them to understand the nuances of their mentee's thoughts and ideas. This helps them ask the right questions to help mentees clarify their thoughts and gain insight into their own thinking.
  • Gives honest and candid feedback: The best mentors always provide you with honest and candid feedback, even when it's tough to hear. Honest feedback is critical for professional development and can help mentees understand their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Recognizes the value of mentorship for both the mentor and mentee: A mentor who recognizes the value of mentorship for both the mentor and mentee understands that the relationship is mutually beneficial. A mentor who values the relationship will be more invested in their mentee's professional development as well.

Limiting beliefs that hold you back from asking someone to be your mentor

Be it a colleague, supervisor, or even your boss, asking someone to be your mentor can feel like a big ask. After all, you're essentially asking them to take on extra work and responsibility for your development.

For most people, it can feel like you're putting someone 'on the spot' when you request mentorship. Since we value autonomy in the workplace, it's not always easy to ask for help. But aside from the initial discomfort of making the request, there are other factors at play.

“I might get rejected”

When you ask someone to be your mentor, there's always the possibility that they might say no. While it's not the end of the world if they do, it can still feel like a personal rejection.

It's perfectly normal to feel this way, but it's important to remember that everyone has different commitments and priorities. Just because someone says no to being your mentor doesn't mean they don't think you're capable or worth mentoring.

“I may sound like I don't know what I'm doing”

Part of asking for mentorship is admitting that you don't have all the answers and that you're willing to learn. If you go into the conversation with this mindset, it'll be much easier to ask for help without sounding like a total novice.

“I don’t want to be a burden”

Nobody wants to be a burden, especially at work. But mentorship is a two-way street, so make sure you're clear about what you can offer in return for their time and guidance. It could be something as simple as helping with a project or taking on some of their workload when they're busy.

“People might see me as demanding”

No one wants to come across as entitled or demanding, especially when asking for something that requires someone else's time and effort. But if you go into the request with humility and an appreciation for the other person's time, they're much more likely to say yes.

The wrong way to ask someone to be a mentor

Whether it's because they're too vague, make it all about themselves, or are just straight-up rude, many people completely ruin their chances of getting help from a more experienced colleague with the way they ask.

If you want to avoid sounding weird or even rude, avoid any of these mistakes:

  • Asking directly: From our experience, the most common (and wrong) way to ask someone to be a mentor is by asking them directly if they will do it. This usually sounds something like, “Would you be my mentor?" Chances are, this kind of questioning will make the person you're asking feel uncomfortable and even put them on the spot. It's best to avoid asking directly and take a more indirect approach (which we'll get into later).
  • Cold calling someone on LinkedIn: If you don't know the person you want to ask well (or at all), it's probably best to avoid cold calling them out of the blue, especially on LinkedIn. This is a surefire way to come across as weird, pushy, and even desperate. 
  • Showing up in person unannounced: This one definitely falls into the stalker category. If you don't know the person well and they're not expecting you, just showing up to their office unannounced is creepy and will probably freak them out.
  • Asking them after only meeting them once: It's best to get to know the person you want to ask before actually asking them. If you've only met them once or twice, it's probably too soon, and you should wait until you've had a chance to build a rapport first.
  • Making it all about you: Instead of saying, “I need your help because I'm struggling with…," try something like, “I would appreciate your guidance because I know you're great at…” This small change in language shows that you're not just looking for someone to do your job for you but that you actually want to learn from them.

Where do you find mentors?

Whether you're a young professional looking to launch your career or an experienced worker wanting to make a change, finding a mentor is a great way to gain the insights, knowledge, and skills you need to achieve your career development goals.

When in doubt, it's always best to start with people you know. Here are a few places to look for potential professional mentors:

The right way to ask someone to be your mentor

At Together, we’ve built a pairing algorithm that matches mentors and mentees based on their professional goals and aspirations. But we know that successful mentoring relationships aren't made by the pairing algorithm alone.

The key to a successful mentoring relationship is enthusiastic mentors and mentees who buy into the purpose of mentorship. They lay the foundations for a successful relationship by breaking the ice and getting to know each other. Thus, the first meeting with your mentor is a pretty important one, so you need to make your first meeting count.

The below steps will definitely help you break the ice:

Identify the right mentor

Look for someone who has the skills and experience you’re looking to develop. Consider their professional background, interests, and goals. You can find out more about them by searching for them on LinkedIn. Follow them, connect with them, and hit the bell notification so you get a notification whenever they post. Read, interact and comment on their posts to know more about them.

Send them an email

This is probably the best way to broach the topic. It allows you to craft a well-thought-out request, and it gives them time to think about their answer. It also shows that you're willing to put in the effort to establish this relationship. Be sure to include additional contact information, including social media profiles in your email signature so they can easily reach out to you not only through email. There're a lot of cases when you find potential mentors on Linkedin but they rarely use their social media accounts and can not see your requests. Thereby, you're more than welcome to use an email finder and send a personal email to increase the chance of getting the needed feedback.

“This is a great way to show your mentor-to-be (hopefully) that you value their time and that your asking is not a big one,” shares Jimmy Minhas, Founder & CEO of GerdLi.

Explain to them why you chose them to be your mentor

Let them know why you think they would be a good fit as a mentor. Show them how your skills and goals align with their expertise. Share some of your backstory and what fascinated you the most about them. This will give them context for why you’re interested in them being your mentor.

Offer to reciprocate

Many people are hesitant to mentor someone because they fear it will be a one-way street. Offering to help out with projects, running errands, or even just getting coffee can show that you're willing to put in the work to make the mentorship relationship successful.

Be genuine

At all costs, avoid coming across as insincere. Your request should come from a place of wanting to learn and better yourself, not because you think it will benefit you in some way.

“People, for the most part, want to help you where they can, and being genuine with your intentions will take you so far,” says Brandon Brown, CEO of GRIN.

Explain the effort you’re willing to put in

Let them know the exact amount of time and effort you’re willing to put in to make the mentorship successful. This will help them to get on the same page with scheduling a weekly or monthly planner with you that both can follow to stay on track and bring desired results from mentorship.

Complete a few sessions before you pop the question

Warm someone up to the idea of mentorship by asking them to have coffee or lunch a few times first. Use these sessions to get to know them better and be authentically grateful for their time and advice. Once you have a good relationship, you can officially schedule your first mentor meeting.

“If they find the time as rewarding as you do, then you'll naturally fall into a mentor-mentee relationship,” urges Dennis Consorte, host of Snackable Solutions.

Example of professional emails to send potential mentors

When you're ready to start reaching out to potential mentors, these five sample professional emails should give you a good starting point.

Sample 1: Emailing someone you already know

Subject: Proposition for YOUR Mentorship

Hi [Mentor's Name],

I hope this email finds you well.

I am reaching out because I have been following you for quite some time now, and I am deeply impressed by your knowledge and expertise in [relevant field].

I am eager to learn from the best, and I believe you fit the bill perfectly.

I am writing to gauge your interest in being my mentor. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from you and gain insight into your experiences and perspectives. I am particularly interested in [specific area of interest].

If you're open to the idea, I would be happy to set up a call to discuss this further. I understand that your time is valuable, and I want to ensure that I make the most of your time.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best regards, [Your Name]

Sample 2: Emailing someone referred to you

Subject: Introduction and Request for YOUR Mentorship

Hi [Mentor's Name],

I hope this email finds you well.

My name is [Your Name], and I was recently referred to you by [Referrer's Name]. [Referrer's Name] spoke very highly of your expertise in [relevant field], and I am eager to learn from someone with your level of experience.

I am writing to see if you’d be interested in being my mentor. I am particularly interested in [specific area of interest], and I believe that with your guidance and support, I will be able to reach my goals much faster.

If you're open to the idea, I would be happy to set up a call to discuss this further. I understand that you're a busy person, and I want to ensure that I make the most of your time.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best regards, [Your Name]

Sample 3: Emailing someone you met at an event

Subject: We met at [Event Name]

Hi [Mentor's Name],

I hope this email finds you well.

It was a pleasure to meet you at [Event Name], and I was impressed by your insights on [topic discussed at event].

I was particularly struck by your passion for [relevant field], and I would love to learn more from someone with your level of experience.

I wanted to propose that you be my mentor. I am eager to gain insight into your experiences and perspectives, and I believe that with your guidance and support, I will be able to reach my goals much faster.

If you're open to the idea, I would be happy to set up a call to discuss this further. I understand that you're a busy person, and I want to ensure that I make the most of your time.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best, [Your Name]

Sample 4: Emailing someone to speak with them on the phone

Subject: I’d love to connect with you over a Phone Call

Hi [Mentor's Name],

I hope that you’re doing great.

I am writing to see if you’d be open to a phone call with me to discuss a potential mentorship opportunity. I have been following your work for quite some time now, and I am deeply impressed by your knowledge and expertise in [relevant field].

I am eager to learn from someone with your level of experience, and I believe that a phone call would be a great way for us to discuss this further.

I understand that you're a busy person, so I would like to propose the following dates and times that work for me: [Insert dates and times].

Please let me know if any of these times work for you or if there's a different time that would be more convenient.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best, [Your Name]

Sample 5: How to ask someone to be your mentor on LinkedIn

Subject: Request for YOUR Mentorship on LinkedIn

Hi [Mentor's Name],

I hope this message finds you well.

I have been following your work on Linkedin for some time now, and I am deeply impressed by your knowledge and expertise in [relevant field]. I always find great value in your posts.

You inspired me a lot, and that’s the reason I’m writing this email.

I am eager to learn from someone with your level of experience in [relevant field or topic], and I believe that a mentor-mentee relationship starts with a great conversation first.

If you're open to the idea, I would be honored if you could accept my request to connect on LinkedIn and hop on a call to explore the possibility of a mentoring relationship.

I understand that you're a busy person, and I want to ensure that I make the most of your time.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to connecting with you on LinkedIn.

Best regards, [Your Name]

How to ask your company to start a mentorship program

Most companies don't have a formal mentorship program in place, but that doesn't mean you can't ask your boss to start one. If you think it would benefit your career development, here's how to build a case for a mentoring program for your employer.

  • Tie mentorship back to organizational goals: Explain how mentorship can help your company achieve its objectives. For example, if your company is trying to increase diversity in leadership positions, a mentorship program could be a way to develop high-potential employees from underrepresented groups.
  • Create awareness about the mentoring program: Get buy-in from other employees by organizing an information session about the program and how it would work. Promoting it will also help you gauge whether there’s enough interest to make the program worthwhile.

Build a mentoring program proposal: Once you have a better idea of the program's structure and goals, put together a formal mentoring program proposal for your boss. You should provide the benefits to employees and the organizations, outline types of mentoring you can take advantage of, and pitch a mentoring software like Together to help you set a timeline, pair employees, and measure the program's success, among others.

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