Have you heard of the (dreaded) DTR? Even if you aren’t familiar with that term, most people are aware of the type of conversation in which two people sit down and “define the relationship.” Those awkward questions of “What are we?” “Where are we going?” “Is this official?” can also sneak their way into professional life as well – in the form of mentorships.

Many people already have informal conversations with potential mentors about professional opportunities or areas of interest. But to make the most of a mentoring relationship, it’s important to make a formal commitment to the process – both as a mentor and as a mentee. But how do you make the leap to a formal mentoring relationship? How do you move past a quick question at the water cooler or over coffee to an intentional and mutually beneficial relationship that will take you where you both want to go?

If you’re looking for a mentor but don’t know where to begin, consider the following:

  • Be yourself. Think about your closest friend right now. Did you become friends by walking up to them at a football game and saying, “Hello. You seem like a nice person. Would you consider becoming my friend?” Of course not. You probably met through other friends, found common interests, and invested in each other as time went on. The same concept is true in mentorship. Who is around you now? Who is where you want to be in five years? Who do you already have a connection with? Who would love to see you grow and thrive? Find common ground professionally, discuss specific goals in that area, and invest in the mentor relationship.
  • Be specific. When you find someone who you would like to ask about mentorship, come to them with specific questions and goals. Prepare an “elevator pitch” of sorts explaining which elements of their work impress you and a few specific goals you would like to accomplish. It’s also important to be specific about your expectations of them and of yourself in the mentorship. Will you meet once a week or twice a year? Are you reading a book together or simply sharing life experiences? Before committing to mentoring you, your potential mentor should have a clear understanding of the time commitment and personal investment you seek.
  • Be their next win-win. Your potential mentor probably has many people who look up to them and admire their work. What makes you stand out as a mentee candidate is what you bring to the table. Flexibility, eagerness to learn, passion for your field, attentiveness, and proven commitment to your team will show your worth in the relationship. A great mentor will be excited to share expertise with an eager mentee, and they will be eager to learn from you as well. 

Sherly Sandberg, author of Lean In, says it this way: 

If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no. When someone finds the right mentor, it is obvious. The question becomes a statement. Chasing or forcing that connection rarely works.”

Your next mentor is likely not as far away as you think. If you are a life-long learner who is also committed to investing in the people around you, your mentor will probably find you just as you’re finding them.