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Finding a Mentor Using Social Media

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice board
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In an ideal world, you’d have relationships with plenty of people who would make great mentors for you professionally. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Whether you live and work in a small town with fewer industry resources and connections, or whether you simply don’t have the time to attend networking mixers to find someone to mentor you, take your hunt online to net better results.

The Benefits of a Virtual Mentor

There’s no rule that says a mentor needs to live in the same city as you, or that you must meet face-to-face. The purpose of a mentor is to give you valuable advice that will help you further your career, and to provide you someone to bounce ideas off of. That can easily be done through email, phone calls, social media, and Skype.

Not being tethered to a mentor in geographic proximity means you’ve got a wider net to cast, and more industry players to choose from. You also have the flexibility of being able to schedule calls and virtual meetings more easily, without the impediments of traffic and location.

Going virtual also means you don’t necessarily need a formal mentor-mentee relationship, according to Heather Whaling, President at Geben Communication. In a Fast Company article, she says that Twitter and other social sites provide ample fodder for a rich relationship, even if it’s not official:

“It’s so easy now to strike up a conversation and, over time, build a meaningful relationship 140 characters at a time,” says Whaling, “Eventually, you may want to move that relationship beyond just Twitter if possible, but I don’t think that’s a requirement. You can learn a lot by identifying people who seem to share your worldview and just following their speaking, writing, and activities online.”

Start Browsing

Hugh Taylor, author of The Life Reset, says there are two types of mentors: “A skills mentor is someone — typically a manager or more seasoned colleague — who enables you to learn how to get better at what you do. A career mentor helps you figure out what you want to do with your life and how to achieve your goals.”

Determine first which type you need right now in your professional life. Then spend some time each day on LinkedIn and Twitter and target a handful of leaders in your industry. Look at employees of companies you’d love to work for, or people who have years of experience in your field. Follow them. Link to them.

Not sure where to find these people? Join industry groups on LinkedIn. Follow industry hashtags or search keywords on Twitter. See who follows the people you already follow.

Then start interacting. Share their updates. Respond to what they post. Find their blogs if they have them, and comment there. Find as many opportunities to connect and have conversations with these professionals as possible.

Be Respectful of Their Time

Brian Wetzel, COO of Skubes, knew from past experience that having a mentor had helped him in his professional career. When he joined a startup, he reached out to someone he’d always respected from afar in the same industry. Although he’d never met this person, after reaching out, he got a response. Wetzel is careful never to ask too much of his virtual mentor:

“I never bombard them several times a month or week. I’ll usually save some questions if they arise and strike up a conversation about once every month to 6 weeks,” he says, “In the year since I first made contact, we’ve had about a half dozen email conversations, which have included advice and stories about their experiences in similar situations.”

Most entrepreneurs are proud of what they’ve accomplished and if you approach them as an admirer of their accomplishments and show respect for their time, Wetzel believes they’ll be open to mentoring.

“Even Steve Jobs was famous for calling or writing people who had sent him letters of admiration. However, the key to it is respecting their time. Unless you are invited to be closer to them, you need to keep it at a respectful distance. You should not be inviting yourself into their inner circles or asking for too much of their time, unless they initiate it first,” says Wetzel.

Give it Time

Finding a mentor isn’t an overnight process. Like with any relationship, it will take time to build up. But by the time you’ve found your mentor, you’ll already have a solid foundation on which to grow your professional relationship.

And don’t make this a one-way relationship. Even if you can’t provide the professional advice your mentor can, find other ways to help him benefit from your partnership. Connect him to others that might help him and find ways to make him glad he signed up to be your mentor.

When seeking to build a mentor-mentee relationship with a well-known industry exec, Joseph Terach, CEO of Resume Deli, knew he had to provide value himself:

“I also thought, long and hard, about what I could bring to the table. A mentor-mentee relationship is not a one-way street. The mentee has to give something back, be it services, client referrals, recommendations for potential hires, book recommendations or something else.”

Terach says he has referred several professionals to his mentor as potential interns.

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