How do I maintain a regular relationship with a mentor?
How do you build and maintain relationships with potential mentors? I’ve been lucky to meet some really incredible women that I look up to, but after our initial meeting, I always feel anxious to reach out again. I don’t want to come off as needy or ingenuine. I also feel bad asking for their help because I cannot really offer much to them in return. How do you suggest continuing such a relationship in a natural way? Thank you!
You seem very respectful, sensitive, and appreciative of the time or advice someone is willing to offer you—that’s a wonderful posture to have when developing a relationship with a potential mentor! And reaching out for that initial meeting is often the most intimidating step, so you are already in a great position.
First off, asking someone to share their experience when you feel you have little to offer in return is understandably anxiety-provoking, but I would advise you to push past any uneasiness or guilt. It is your mentor’s job to decide if this is a meaningful way for her to spend her time, and she may have a thousand reasons why she wants to support you. Be kind and respectful of her boundaries, but never feel bad about asking for guidance, and please don’t take it personally if she doesn’t have the bandwidth to sustain an ongoing relationship.
During that initial meeting, listen carefully to how your potential mentor initiates that she wants to stay connected. If she asks you to keep her updated on your progress or offers to connect you to relevant contacts in the field, then by all means, take her up on it! Either way, follow up with a thank-you note to let her know that you valued her time and openness to share her experience with you. If you felt warmth and natural chemistry during that first conversation, feel confident to reach out again, even if no next steps were discussed in the initial meeting.
Here are a few natural ways to continue the conversation:
Reach out with a very specific ask. If you are curious about a certain next step in your work or have a question that your potential mentor can shed light on, this is a very natural way to continue the conversation. Ask if she has time for a short follow-up call or meeting to discuss the topic. Your potential mentor will likely love to offer guidance in a quick email or phone call, as it is an energizing and exciting way for you both to stay connected.
Update your contact on any milestones in your professional or academic career, especially if something discussed in your conversation helped you reach this goal. She will be thrilled to hear when you finally launch your business or enroll in that graduate program. In sharing the news, you’re inviting her to follow along in your journey and your success.
Send resources that may be relevant or helpful for her, like an article or podcast about something discussed in the conversation. When offered tactfully (i.e., sent in a very short email), this is a contextual way to offer value to your potential mentor.
As the relationship is progressing, I would recommend refraining from asking your contact to formally “mentor” you, as the expectations often feel undefined for both sides. Instead, ask if she has availability for a regular touch-base (quarterly at most), and defer to what works for her schedule. When you meet, whether virtually or in-person, have a few specific updates or questions to review together and direct the conversation in a meaningful way for your professional needs.
Mentorship requires a lot of work and engagement from both parties, but they can be one of the most rewarding and supportive aspects of professional development. Enjoy and nurture this relationship and always seek support when you need it. Also, when offered something meaningful in your career, find ways to reciprocate that offering. Give your assistance, advice, and time to others who may benefit from your experiences. Always pay it forward.
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AmyAnn Cadwell is CEO & Co-Founder of The Good Trade and an angel investor in mission-driven companies.