Want a mentor? Follow these guidelines for the best fit

Starting a business is a unique experience. Because of this, it is helpful to build a relationship with someone who has already gone through the process. Sidnee Peck shares her advice as vice president of global sales ops and consumer engagement for the technology company, Zero Mass Water, a science and engineering firm using solar energy to make water from the air. She is also a faculty associate of management and launched the Center for Entrepreneurship in 2014.

Question: How do I get a mentor?

Answer: Starting a business is a unique experience, and it can be difficult for anyone to understand the roller coaster of emotions and heavy decisions required unless he or she has personally lived through it. Because of this, it is truly powerful to build a relationship with someone who has already gone through the process. I am not a huge fan of the title "mentor," but whatever you call it, an adviser and confidant can be a huge asset. Getting a mentor is not as simple as cold-calling around town and asking, "Will you be my mentor?"

I recommend purposefully building multiple relationships and deciding over time who you believe to be the right fit. I think about the individuals I trust with complete certainty and would feel comfortable calling in a crisis or a celebration — any day, anytime. I also think about individuals who challenge me and don't simply cheer me on and tell me I'm awesome (although there needs to be some of that, too.)

To start, draft a list of the top 10 people in town who you think highly, whether or not you have met them. Research these individuals and learn more about their career paths and experiences. For each individual you believe might be a good fit, reach out and make an initial connection. For those you know, request a coffee meeting. The actual communication will take some finessing. You want the style to be personal to you and to grab the attention of the person you are targeting. Make sure you know enough about the individual so the connection makes sense. A lot of leaders also recommend communicating something that you can offer that person. Keep in mind that these are busy people who get multiple requests for their time from strangers every day. Be purposeful and explicit in your ask.

For example:

I am developing a product for children with autism, and your expertise would be invaluable for me to help identify potential partners for my product rollout. Personally, I admire your work and would love the opportunity to learn more about you. If there is any way my work can be beneficial to you, I would be more than happy to collaborate or contribute. 

Avoid general phrases like:

I'd like to pick your brain. 

This communicates that you don't really have focus and that your time spent together would not be well spent. Avoid lengthy e-mails and be flexible with scheduling. Nothing is worse than having someone reach out to request your time and then being a nightmare with whom to schedule that time. From personal experience, being a mentor is rewarding and one of my favorite things, especially when the individual is focused, purposeful with our time together, and actively sharing exciting successes with me, so I can celebrate, too.

Join the mentorship community

For W. P. Carey first-year students and transfer students that are looking for a peer-to-peer mentorship program (i.e. student-to-student), they are encouraged to use Connectors to access business student mentors. Connectors mentors are undergraduate business students of all majors as well as MBA graduate students. And if you think mentoring incoming first-year students as an undergraduate or graduate student sounds super fun, definitely check it out. The W. P. Carey School of Business Professional Mentorship Program matches professional mentors exclusively with business student mentees.

Then there's Arizona State University's revamped and expanded online network that drives powerful professional connections within the Sun Devil community. The ASU Mentor Network gives students access to an online and in-person network of diverse mentors. It also offers a variety of opportunities that allow alumni to continue sharing their experience and real-world knowledge with students, ranging from various informal connections to more traditional mentoring relationships.

This article was first published by The Arizona Republic on Aug. 26, 2014. Minor edits have been made in accordance with W. P. Carey's editorial style, as well as updates have been made since the first version of this story appeared.

By Faculty Associate of Management and Entrepreneurship Sidnee Peck

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