Dear Coach Kwan,
I am struggling with maintaining a relationship with someone who I think could potentially be a great mentor for me. We have been corresponding via email, and he has been responding in a very nice manner. However, I don’t know what to do from here–what should I do next to keep this relationship going?
A mentee, ready to meet my mentor
By now, you should all be familiar with why it is important to find a mentor. The right mentor can open up your path in so many ways, from teaching you valuable skills to introducing you to the right people so you can develop your professional network. As I say this, some of you might be thinking of one or a couple of people in particular who you want to build this type of relationship with but do not know how to first approach this. Check out my tips for the whole process, so you can go from good acquaintances to a fully-fledged mentorship.
1) They took time from their busy day to reply. Take time from your day to say thank you
Do you ever go away on a short vacation just to come back to an inbox flooded with emails? Some professionals live this on a daily basis, minus the vacation part. This means that if someone replies to your email, while it might seem trivial to you, for them it was something they had to incorporate into their busy daily schedule. You should never underestimate the effort that goes into an email and therefore be thankful. Now is the season too! Take advantage of the holidays and take a moment to send a Thanksgiving card to appreciate gratitude towards that person you want to maintain your relationship with.
2) Stop emailing! Ask for phone calls or a cup of coffee
A verbal conversation has much more substance and can be much more engaging than a conversation that takes place via email. Ideally, if you live relatively close to where your potential mentor lives, setting up a face-to-face meeting over a cup of coffee would help in the development of a more personal relationship. I understand that obviously this cannot be the case for everyone. Maybe you found your potential mentor online and both of you live in different states. Maybe it is your former professor that you want to maintain a relationship with but you moved out-of-state after graduation.
Nevertheless, you can still maintain contact through phone calls. By having a verbal conversation, much of the formality and stiffness that comes from emails can be shaken off and thus making the relationship more personal. Plus, if you are having a real-time conversation, you do not run the risk of your email getting lost in someone’s busy inbox.
3) Step up your game and give back!
Look for ways in which you can help your mentor out! This relationship is not going to work if you think of it as a one-way street. As eager you are to learn from this person, you should remember that there are always ways in which you can be an asset to them as well. Personally, I always recommend students to get involved with professional affiliations. These groups are gateways into a lot of professional opportunities, be it networking or otherwise.
Many professional affiliations in the U.S. organize yearly regional or national conferences. During the early stages of organizing these conferences, there will usually be a “call for proposals” stage, and you can use this opportunity to collaborate with your mentor. If you and your mentor share the same interest in that organization, feel free to ask if they are interested to speak at the event and offer your help to prepare that proposal for them. This is a golden opportunity for you to showcase your knowledge, skills, and professionalism, as well as gain your potential mentor’s trust.
Social interactions are always tricky, and as international students, we have to deal with language and cultural barriers on top of that. Naturally, this can all be a little bit intimidating and unnerving. However, start out little by little. Send that thank you note. Ask for that cup of coffee. Try to be helpful. In the long run, these small steps will help you maintain a mutually beneficial relationship, which eventually will turn into a meaningful mentorship.