Like many other millennials coming out of college, my first foray into the work world wasn’t a smooth landing into a stable job. I spent a year in a startup incubator before leaving to start interning with a mentor to develop my marketing skills.
I then went on to lead marketing for Sumo.com, until that blew up 8 months later. There’s more detail to the story, but suffice it to say that I’ve made it to the other side successfully. Now I spend my time working for myself as an entrepreneur, traveling the world, and growing my site.
I can say without hesitation that the key to getting this ball rolling was finding a set of mentors who guided my initial learning, widened my network, and provided feedback along the way. The time I spent with my mentors set me up for success no matter what path I decided to take.
Finding a good mentor isn’t easy. It can be downright intimidating to reach out to someone you admire and ask for something. But it’s a skill that can be learned. A lot of my learning on how to find the perfect mentor came from Charlie Hohen’s book Recession-Proof Graduate.
Charlie spent the summer of 2008 after graduating college applying for jobs. Each day he’d stalk every job board applying to any job for which he was even slightly qualified – even if he didn’t really want to work them. This was at the peak of the global recession, and no employers were responding to the application of a fresh grad like Charlie.
Eventually, Charlie gave up applying for jobs and figured out how to start working on stuff he loved with mentors he admired, like Tucker Max, Ramit Sethi, and Tim Ferriss. Working with mentors eventually landed him in paid positions he could have never dreamed of before.
I was lucky enough to sit down and interview Charlie to discuss his book and his tactics for finding a mentor.
Here are the top points from our conversation that anyone can use to go from zero to getting a mentor, a fruitful internship and paid work no matter the circumstances:
1. Stop caring about what people think
You might get a lot of raised eyebrows as you opt for this atypical job search. Friends and family might doubt you, you may doubt yourself, but as Charlie says, you deserve a chance to do something unique and different. As a young person, you’ve spent more than a decade-and-a-half following someone else’s agenda, in school and at home. Now, with the fewest responsibilities you’ll ever have in your life, you’ve got the chance to follow an agenda of your own. Seize the day.
2. It’s all about communication
Finding a mentor is all about learning and mastering effective communication. Effective communication is all about giving before you ask: ‘give first, ask later’. At every point in your communication with your prospective mentor, find ways to offer value first. This might be offering insightful comments on their social media, or helpful replies to their blog broadcasts. When you’ve got something to offer, your prospective mentors will be much more receptive to offering something to you.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
3. Get skilled
To have something to offer, you first need to develop a marketable skill. Developing a skill doesn’t mean become an expert right way. You just need to become really good at a few things. How? You can teach yourself an array of marketable skills online or through books, and then create an inexpensive online portfolio to put them on display.
4. Work for Free
This is the toughest for people to accept, but finding a good mentor means offering something in return. And there isn’t anything better than offering a useful skill for free. This drastically lowers the barrier to entry and places you in a position to impress. If working for free seems too crazy, just think about it, you’ve been doing free work for years in school. A few more months in return for a great payoff doesn’t seem to bad in comparison.
5. Make it easy for them
Don’t approach someone asking them “how can I help?”. This has the counter-intuitive effect of placing the burden on your prospective mentor to figure out what work to give you. Instead, do your research and figure out how you can specifically add value to your mentor’s life or business, and pitch that service to them. It might be editing their YouTube videos, sending them a content marketing strategy or creating an infographic based on their blog content.
“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” – Warren Buffett
6. Treat people like people
Resist the urge to place your mentors on a pedestal. Don’t view your mentor as a means to an end. Treat them like a person with whom you creating a lasting friendship. After all, these kinds of connections are the most valuable and long-lasting.
Here’s one more important piece: Make sure you maintain the relationship with your mentor even after you’ve moved on. A mentorship isn’t like an internship that you do over the summer and forget about. A mentorship is first and foremost a relationship, and it’s up to you to make sure that relationship keeps going. Make sure that you’re always giving back to your mentor whenever possible, and you’ll reap the rewards for a long time to come.