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Working with a mentor can be one of the most fulfilling and useful career strategies. It can fast track your knowledge, expertise, and confidence. And the first point of contact is make or break, especially when you might not know the person.
So you’ve seen, heard, or experienced an amazing leader who you would love to have a one-on-one chat with. They are inspiring, knowledgeable, and highly experienced. Only trouble is – they are also in high demand. We all have many constraints on our time these days. So how do you send a request that will have the most success?
As a regular conference speaker, I know that you can often get overwhelmed with really lovely requests to catch up for coffee dates after a conference presentation. I love meeting and chatting with people but sometimes there just isn’t enough hours in the day! From my own experience, and from other colleagues I’ve spoken to about this, I’ve listed a few ideas to cut through and make you more favourable to get a meeting with a busy potential mentor.

Let’s start with a big meeting request no-no!

The worst possible request is “can I have a coffee with you to pick your brain?”
This request implies a one-way exchange. It’s nondescript. And it lacks any type of focus or value for the mentor. Most people want to help. But help yourself with the following tips and make your next request outstanding!

How to ask for a meeting with a potential mentor

Be open with how

You can ask for a face to face meeting but also mention that you are willing to have a phone call too. Sometimes it’s easier for the person to jump on the phone with you for 15 minutes rather than (up to) an hour’s meeting plus travel time. A phone call gives them an experience of you and perhaps they might meet in person in the future. Check their schedule for public events – speaking or networking – that you could use as an opportunity to meet them and ask them a few questions there. Think outside of the box.

Tell them what you’re after

Tell them what you want to ask! Outline the questions, information, or value you are after.
“Can I meet with you?” doesn’t really share why it’s important that they meet with you specifically. Make it easy for them and share that information.
You want the potential mentor you are contacting to ascertain if they are the best person to talk to. Maybe you’re wrong in your assumptions, and they may be able to suggest a better person to connect with. You might save yourself and them a huge amount of time if you clarify what is it you are interested in.

Make it easy for them

Allow them to name the time and place that’s easier for them. You buy the coffee. Sometimes it might be easier for them if you come straight to their office. Whatever is easiest for them.

Think about how you can give back

I think people forget the most basic ways we can be helpful to each other. Even if you’re just starting out in your career, you can show that you are mindful enough to make a meeting mutually beneficial for each other!

Here are some ideas about how you can be useful to the person you want to meet:
  • You can share their work with your networks. How can you profile their work or charity contributions to your network?
  • Provide a testimonial or a Linkedin recommendation.
  • You could facilitate some business opportunities for them or send them some referrals.
  • Pay them for their time if appropriate. I know many consultants who are constantly asked for their time to give their expertise for free. Perhaps you could purchase their course or donate to their favourite charity.

If you get a meeting, make the most of the time.

The points below might seem basic, but most of the time we can miss these in the busyness of life.
• Come on time.
• Be prepared with your questions. Make their time (and your own) count.
• If you’re meeting at a cafe, pay for the coffee. If you’re requested the meeting, it’s common courtesy to pay for the drinks.
Send a thank you note afterward.

Final Words

A person’s time is incredibly valuable. If you’re reaching out to an admired leader, role model, or potential mentor, be respectful of their time and show your commitment.
Now over to you: Have you thought about working with a mentor? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this!

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