Ask the Career Expert: “Why Do I Need a Mentor?”

The following is a guest post from Laurel House, an author, lifestyle mentor, and contributing blogger for Campus Explorer. The folks at Campus Explorer believe everyone deserves a fulfilling education, no matter the name or place. Their philosophy is that anyone shopping for college or continuing education can find the perfect fit, if they have access to the proper tools. To this end, Campus Explorer has compiled everything needed to perform an efficient and effective online college search. I an investor in Campus Explorer via Rincon Venture Partners.

Question: ”Why do I need a mentor? When should I start looking for a mentor and how do I find a one?”

Answer: Now’s the time to lock down a mentor, even if you haven’t locked down your exact major or career goal. Why? Because the fact is that you are about to enter into a new game where you are definitely not at the top of it, and probably don’t even really know the rules. More than that, how do you even know that this is the career you want to spend the rest of your working days doing? What do you know about the reality of this world and the day-to-day of the lifestyle?

Not Your Dad’s Job … Even if it Is
Even if you are following your mom, dad, sister or professor’s path, you are still likely only getting a snapshot, a posed-for-the-camera look at this “dream job” of yours. A mentor is your “in” … your eyes, your inside scoop on the unsaid but well-known policies and politics. They are also an example of what you might become someday – not just their on-the-job status, but their life. Why? Because more than just a job, a career partially dictates the types of people with whom you will associate, the way you will dress, your vacation durations and destinations, your extracurricular interests and activities – your whole life. If you decide that this career is in fact your ideal, then your mentor, in a way, has already vetted you. Your mentor invested in you, believes in you enough to have put time and energy into you, maybe even introduced you to key players and connections. If they believe in you, someone else will too.

Finding Your Mentor
There are many ways to get a mentor, but regardless of the route, you have to have the gumption and grace to ask for it. I did. When I was 19 years old I contacted the then most powerful man in the entertainment industry to be my mentor: Michael Ovitz. And it worked. You would be amazed how few people have the guts to get up and ask. Show a little interest and you already have an advantage. So if you have the gumption and grace, you will get the 3rd “G” –guidance 

- Internship Job Boards. Internships are a great way to start working with someone who could end up being your mentor. It many cases this will be free work, but you will get paid in the form advice, insight, experience and relationships. Look on campus job boards, craigslist or internship websites. Once you have a lead, compose an email that is smart, grammatically correct, brief, and eye catching.

- Pinpoint, then Email. If there is a certain industry leader who you specifically want to be your mentor, see if you can find their personal – or their personal assistant’s – email address. Just look on their company website. If there’s no email for that specific person, call their office and ask for his/her email address. You can also mail a letter … yes, in the mail. It may have been several years ago, but that’s how I contacted Ovitz to be my mentor. Write a well-written, thought-out letter, and include your phone number and email address, as well as your printed and signed name, so it doesn’t appear to be a form letter sent to any number of potential mentors.

- Broaden Your Reach: Contact a Company: If you are not sure exactly who you want as a mentor, but you know the type of industry or even a target company, then check that company’s website. No listing on the company website? Call the company and ask if they are taking interns or if any of the executives are looking to mentor. You may have to submit your inquiry without even knowing exactly to whom it’s going, but that’s okay. It is going to someone, and that someone will look at your email and read it … or else they would not have taken the time to post the listing.

BOTTOM LINE: Ask! The worst thing they can say is “no.” Once you get the internship or secure a mentor, treat that relationship like a job. They are not your friend, even though they may talk to you in a friendly tone and on off business hours. Respect their time. Be diligent. Show them how hard working and dedicated you are. LISTEN to everything they say. Ask questions. Take notes. Then, as Ovitz told me: “Pick their brain until it bleeds.”

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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