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

October 26, 2022

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 is it so uncomfortable to ask 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.

But why is it so difficult to ask someone to be your mentor?

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.

But where do you actually find mentors? And how do you know if they're right for you?

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

Most people choose to ask a colleague or supervisor that they already have a good relationship with, but it's not always possible or even ideal to approach someone you know.

Asking someone to mentor you takes courage, and it should be treated as such. If you choose to go this route, here are a few tips on how to ask someone to be your mentor:

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.

“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.

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.

Ask for help about a specific project

Have a project or task in mind that you would like guidance with. This simple step will show that you're serious about learning and that you value the person's expertise.

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 two sample professional emails should give you a good starting point.

Sample #1

I was hoping to speak with you about potentially becoming my mentor at work. 

I admire your expertise in ABC and would love to learn more from you about how to be successful in this field. I can offer my help with anything you might need in return.

Please let me know if you’re open to mentoring me or if there’s someone else you recommend I speak with.

Thank you for your time!

Sample # 2

I hope you're doing well. I've been admiring your work from afar, and I would love to learn more about what you do.

Would you be open to mentoring me? I'm keen to chat with you about your experiences and get advice on how to progress in my career.

I'm willing to offer my time in return - I can help with projects, research, or anything else you might need assistance with.

If you're unable to commit to meeting regularly, even a one-off coffee catch-up would be really helpful.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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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