How to Find and Build a Great Relationship with a Mentor

The value of having a mentor as a working professional

No matter what field you work in, having a more experienced person to guide you, keep you accountable to your goals, and help you overcome obstacles is invaluable. In the bestselling book The Power of Moments, authors Chip and Dan Heath explain mentorship in two sentences: “I have high expectations for you and I know you can meet them. So try this new challenge and if you fail, I’ll help you recover.”

The research on the power of mentorship is clear: People with mentors advance their careers faster, perform better, and experience higher levels of work-life satisfaction. Analysis shows that mentors benefit from the relationship, too. Yet, despite these benefits, only one in three people is currently working with a mentor. Why? Because the process of actually finding and building a relationship with a mentor is nowhere near as clear.

MovingWorlds partnered with Harvard Business Review in January 2020 to create a guide for more effective mentor relationships. We elaborated on that guide, and also added new templates, which are now available to you for free below.

If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.

- J. Loren Norris

10 Steps to Find and Build a Relationship with a Mentor

In our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship, which helps working professionals create more impact in their careers, we have an entire module dedicated to mentor identification, relationship building, and long-term follow-up. Whether our Fellows are changing careers, growing their current roles, or starting their own companies, we find the following eight steps effective for finding and building a relationship with the right mentor:

1. Define your goals and specific needs

Get a pen and paper and write out your career goals. Don’t be vague here - setting goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) is proven to help you achieve them. (For inspiration, check out these 5 great examples of SMART goals for your career.) Then, list out some of the biggest obstacles between where you are now and achieving those goals. Maybe you need to develop new skills, expand your network in a specific sector, or build confidence to have some tough conversations. Going into this level of specificity will help you decide what type of mentor you should be looking for, and where to look for them.

2. Write your ideal mentor’s “job description”

Equipped with your goals, and the gaps you need to fill to achieve them, now it’s time to think through how a mentor can help. What type of mentor can help you seize your biggest opportunities and/or navigate your biggest challenges? Be specific here. If you’re thinking about starting your own social enterprise, you probably want a mentor with entrepreneurial experience. If you’re considering a career transition from operations to CSR, you probably want a mentor who works in corporate sustainability and can make introductions to people at a certain level within that space.

Taking the time to write this out will not only help ensure you’re asking the right person, but also help your potential mentor make an informed decision about whether they can support you. In your job description, make sure to also include the “why” – just like companies want potential hires to understand the bigger purpose of their work, mentors want to understand the bigger purpose of supporting you. You can then use this description when reaching out to potential mentors to make sure you’re both aligned up front.

Template: Ideal Mentor Job Description

My ideal mentor will help me ____ (i.e. develop 10 new connections to social enterprises that may potentially be hiring in the next year). My ideal mentor will probably have a role/title similar to ___ (i.e. Senior Program Manager), and will have skills and experience related to:

  • Skills: Program management
  • Industry Experience: Any industry
  • Geographic Experience: Rural areas in developing economies

3. Leverage your first and second degree networks

Even if you don’t know someone off the top of your head who fits your ideal mentor description, chances are someone you know does. LinkedIn is a great tool to help you find connections who can introduce you to potential mentors you want to meet. According to Adam Grant, second degree and dormant connections can be as powerful as your most trusted friends.

You can use a template like this to make your first ask for an introduction:

Template: Asking a Colleague for a Connection to a Potential Mentor


I hope this message find you well.

I’m writing with a quick update, as well as a favor to ask: I'm in the process of setting some career goals, and as part of that, I'm looking to speak with other professionals with experience navigating some of the decisions I'll likely be facing in the coming years. On LinkedIn, I saw that you are connected to POTENTIAL MENTOR. I’d love the chance to connect with POTENTIAL MENTOR to learn more about their career journey, and am hoping you can introduce us if you're open to it. If so, I've included a short note below that you can use to make things as easy as possible from your side:

- - -

A colleague of mine, YOUR NAME (url linked to your LinkedIn profile), recently reached out to me to see if you might be open to an introduction and brief conversation. YOUR NAME is developing a career growth plan, and thought that you might have interesting insights to share as he/she/they considers the next steps in his/her/their career. I know you're busy, so wanted to make sure to get consent before I make the introduction. No worries at all if you are not able, but if you are, I'm sure your knowledge would be very helpful to YOUR NAME. Thanks so much for considering this ask!

- - -

Thanks so much for taking the time to consider this!

4. Make the ask to schedule time

As a first step, email your potential mentor to schedule an initial conversation. Don’t ask them to be your mentor in this first exchange - at this point, the goal is to learn more about each other. To help them understand the context of who you are and why you’re reaching out, mention the person that introduced you or how you know each other. Here’s an example of what that could look like:

Template: Asking a Potential Mentor for a First Meeting


My name is NAME, and I am currently working on a personal career development plan to determine next steps in my social impact career. I know how valuable your time is, and if you're open to it, I’m hoping to schedule a brief call of a short meeting over coffee to connect. Based on your experience with SECTOR (note: Use sector instead of employer so it doesn’t sound like you are trying to ask them for a job), I thought you might have relevant insights to share based on your own experience with some of the decisions and opportunities I am facing.

If you are open to this, I promise to respect your time and will come to our conversation prepared with specific questions related to how you got to where you are now in your career, and what helped you navigate your own path. I truly appreciate you being open to this ask - let me know if you have a short time window in the coming weeks.

Thanks so much!

5. Have a first meeting

If they agree to scheduling a phone call or in-person meeting, that’s great! Now it’s time to do your homework so that you can come prepared. Learn as much as you can about their work, past experience, and big accomplishments - you want to be able to ask intelligent questions and draw direct parallels between their experiences and the areas you are trying to develop.

Your goal for the meeting is two-fold: 1. Identify whether this person is really the right mentor for you, and 2. See how open this person is to the idea of mentoring you. Clearly express the guidance you’re seeking early in the meeting, whether that’s making a career change to their sector, deciding whether to go back to school, or navigating departmental politics. Make it clear to your potential mentor that you’re willing to commit the time, energy, and effort to make the most of their advice and time.

And one more note: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without the right clarity up-front, they will be left wondering why you want to meet with them. Are you asking for a job? Are you trying to sell them something? The more clarity you can add, in a concise and complimentary way, the better. This is why clear email asks and setting the content of the meeting upfront is important.

Template: Your First Meeting

You can use this in an email in advance, or as speaking points to guide the conversation when you meet for the first time

In preparation for our meeting, I want to confirm that I won’t be asking you for a job or trying to sell you anything. Truly, I am interested in your personal experience and industry know-how, and have prepared a few questions to ask that I think will help me navigate some of my own career decisions.

For now, the questions that I have are:

  • In your role as ____, what have you found to be the most critical skills for breaking in to and succeeding in the sector?
  • How do you anticipate your work will continue to change over time, and what skills & experiences will help people following in your footsteps?
  • What do you know about this work now that you wish you knew when you started?
  • What courses, influencers, trade journals, or publications would you recommend to someone interested in building their skills further?

6. Reflect on how it went and say thank you

After your call, spend some time reflecting on how it went. Did it feel like a good fit? Could you see yourself building a relationship with this person over the longer-term? Regardless of whether the answer to those questions is yes or no, send a follow-up email to thank them for their time. If it did feel like a good fit, also mention that you’d like to connect again. If your potential mentor reciprocates, get something on the calendar to keep you both accountable.

Template: Say Thank You

Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me. I really appreciated your insights related to ___(briefly summarize the key points)

(OPTIONAL - include something valuable for this person)

After our conversation, I did more research related to _ and I found this interesting article/study/person. I found it to be extremely relevant to our conversation, and thought you might appreciate it, too.

I'll take your advice to heart and will continue doing research and connecting with leaders like you across the sector. I got a lot out of our conversation, and if your open to it would like to stay in touch for ongoing mentorship and guidance. I know that you are busy and already contributing to the greater good, so if I write again with future asks and you don’t have the time, please don’t hesitate to say so.

Thanks so much!
-Your Name

7. Make the ask

It’s important to remember that while people are certainly busy, being asked to be a mentor is a tremendous compliment. People might say “no” to being a mentor, but by asking them you’ve still established a connection that may be helpful in the future. You’ll likely have to ask more than one person, and that’s ok. As you consider who to ask, keep in mind these selection criteria from Eric Barker:

  • Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter
  • Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little
  • Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions
  • Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals
  • Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person

Asking someone to be your mentor for the first time might feel a little awkward. It requires you to be vulnerable, and opens you up to the potential for a rejection. But instead of framing a “no” as a rejection, try to reframe it as a valuable part of the learning process. Eventually, you will connect with the right person whose expertise is a match for your goals!

We know from behavioral economics that people’s choices are influenced by the words, situations, and/or settings in which they are presented. You’re more likely to get a “yes” if you have a dedicated time and space to have the conversation; that way, you won’t be rushed and the other person has a chance to ask questions and learn more about your goals.

Template: Make the Ask

This ask can be in-person, over a call, or over email

Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me last month. I found your insights incredibly helpful, and I’m wondering if you might be open to meeting again, potentially on a periodic basis. Our skills, insights, and personalities felt like a really good match, and if you're open to mentoring me, I am committed to doing the work and follow-through to build a mutually rewarding relationship.

I know that this is a big ask, but if you are open to it, my proposal is this:

  • I'll take all initiative for scheduling conversations with you, based on your time constraints and schedule
  • I’ll set the context for every meeting, and send a proposed “agenda” ahead of every meeting. Should I not have an agenda or pressing discussion topic, I’ll cancel the meeting to respect your time
  • I’ll draft and share a short document to align on expectations so that I can make sure to respect your preferences about how and when we communicate

I can’t thank you enough for considering this ask - the short time we've spent together so far has already helped me better understand the social impact sector and how I can find my place in it.

If you’re OK with the above, let me know and I can suggest some days and times to connect again in the coming weeks.

Thanks so much!
-Your Name

8. Align on how you'll work together

By the second or third time you meet with each other, both you and your mentor will feel much more comfortable formalizing your mentorship arrangement. Consider creating a simple one-page document outlining what you hope to accomplish together over the next 6 months, how often you’ll meet, and the commitments you’ll be responsible for. Then, set the stage to discuss it together at your next meeting by saying something like, “I truly appreciate your time, and I really want to make sure I’m making the most of it, as I know you’re limited. I was thinking that I could prepare a simple document that would share my goals with you, my commitment to you, and what milestones I hope to achieve in the next 6 months. I think it’ll help hold me accountable to come prepared to our conversations. Would you be OK with that?”

Template: Mentorship Agreement

Mentorship Plan for NAME and POTENTIAL MENTOR


The goals of this mentorship are to help NAME ___.


We will try this for about 6 months, at which point, NAME will either update this agreement to reflect new goals or share that the mentoring was a success and that official meetings are over.

Meeting Frequency

We will meet no more than once every XX weeks, and not let more than XX weeks time past between conversations.

Communication Preferences

NAME will set up every meeting with a calendar appointment, and then send a reminder 7 days in advance to confirm time, location, and POTENTIAL MENTOR's availability. In general, we will communicate via email/text/phone.

Wrapping Up

At any time POTENTIAL MENTOR can ask to close this agreement without any guilt or remorse. We’re all busy people :)

9. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again

There are two key points here:

  1. If you don’t get a response, you can ask again
  2. If people ignore you, keep trying to find other people

Think about the last time you forgot to respond to an email, text message, or phone call. It probably happens to you every week. This happens to others, too. If people don’t respond to your initial ask, it’s possible that they simply forgot. While it is possible they are not available or interested, it is OK to follow-up. Simply wait about 5-15 days, and then reply on the last message you sent with a gentle nudge, something like: “Hi Name. I’m writing with a quick follow-up on the email below. I hope you can consider my request. Certainly, if now is not a good time or you don’t have availability, I certainly understand. Thanks so much!”

Should people say no, that is OK and normal. We’re all busy, and sometimes we just don’t have time. When you get a no, don’t take it as a reflection or judgement of you as a person. Take a moment to think about why the no happened, and then use that insight to amend your approach as you reach out to more individuals. Here's more information about how to grow from the feedback you receive.

10. Remember that mentorship is a two-way street

People will feel good about investing in you if you can show them the impact of that investment. When your potential mentor offers you advice, let them know how it goes once you follow it. Even better, send a hand-written thank you note clearly explaining how their support has contributed to your success.

Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.

- Denzel Washington