Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan and Yoda. Batman had Alfred. The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi.
Awesome mentoring relationships. (Except when Obi-Wan dies, but let’s not focus on that.)
I’ve had various mentors throughout my college housing time and I’ve benefited deeply from them. received encouragement, advice and resources that I would not have received on my own.
But sometimes finding a mentor is a bit like dating—you want to find a connection, a person that takes an interest in you. But how do you do it? How do you find and choose a mentor? I mean, do you throw a dart?
Before we get into the searching process, I define a mentor simply as: someone who possess more experience in the area where you want to grow and is willing to share. That’s it. A mentor usually doesn’t cover all the aspects of your life, but someone specifically focused in the area that you are needing help.
Here are some tips and resources on how to go about finding a mentor.
Decide what you want: Are you looking for help in areas of programming or conduct? Policy creation or budget? Do you need a mentor that needs to encourage you to have some life balance? Choose two aspects you’d like to grow in.
Ask Around: Ask your colleagues, boss, and friends who they know that’s an expert in what you described. Don’t jump on the first name you hear—make a list.
Conferences: Head to conferences and meet as many people as you can (for those of you who aren’t the “networking brave” here’s a great book that helped me: Never Eat Alone). Take advantage of any networking opportunities and go to everything. One of the best ways I met people who I thought would make good mentors was to find out who was presenting on the very topic I needed help with. Go to their session and afterwards, we’d strike up a conversation—talk about the topic. I’d then transition that into having coffee during the conference or some time to follow up on Skype.
Just Say It: If you’ve met the person live, you might want to say: “I really appreciate what you’ve said, and I’m wondering if I could give you a call or send an email from time to time about (your topic).” I can guarantee you they will say “YES!”
If you haven’t met them, ask someone to refer you. (Hint: find them on facebook and then see what mutual friends you have and then ask them to refer you. It’s pretty stalkerish, but Batman would be proud.) Then just send a quick note:
I’m a mutual friend with (your friend’s name) and I hear your an expert in (such and such). I was wondering if you’d have time for a 10 minute phone call to discuss it. I hope that (this time) works for you. If not, I’m sure we can work something out.
Keep in contact with your mentor about once a month and when you see them at the next conference, give them a little handwritten note (bottle of wine, what?) thanking them. Oh, they have a job opening? What? Crazy, right?
Having a mentor, someone to bounce that idea off of, to get honest feedback and help continue you on this SA journey is valuable and should not be passed up. Use the summer to find one.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips.
Ryan McRae has served on Western Association of University and College Housing Officals board, as a Western Training Institute scholar and an all around nice guy. He was a Resident Director at Cal State San Marcos for 7 years. He currently freelance writer and blog maker which is a peaceful break from his year in Afghanistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.