No one gets to where they've gotten alone. Reaching out to people in the industry who can provide guidance, a shoulder to lean on when things get rough, and potentially open doors to new opportunities is a hugely important part of everyone's career path. But how do you start making those connections in the first place? Here are 5 tips on how to reach out to potential mentors the right way, including where to find a fresh crop of them, pulled from February's Black History Month content.
1) Be intentional about who you reach out to. You're not looking for just anybody to be a future mentor. You want someone who will feel connected and invested in you. So exercise quality over quantity when looking for people to reach out to. Is their background similar to yours in some way? Are you alumni of the same school? Do they share a similar side interest/hustle? Or are they your complete opposite in personality and skills, meaning you'll have a ton to learn from them? Try to find specific reasons for choosing them that go beyond having a title you want someday. Be sure to mention this reason in your outreach email.
2) Research is key. You've probably perused their LinkedIn profile, but there's often much more out there for you to learn about this person. Check out their portfolio site, blog, agency's site, and client roster. The more context you can collect on this person, the easier it'll be to be specific in your outreach (see #1), and to make organic conversation when you do connect. Don't worry about coming off as a creeper—people put their professional selves out there to make connections with others, including you.
3) Make your outreach short and sweet. People in advertising are busy, so the briefer your email, the more likely they'll actually read it and respond. This isn't the email to include a ton of background on you or attach your resume. Limit yourself to 3-5 sentences that provide a little background on you, why you chose to reach out to them specifically, and a concrete ask (setting up a quick call, meeting for coffee, or sending a few questions over email). Make it clear that you're connecting because you're genuinely interested in learning more about them vs. asking them for something right off the bat.
4) Mentorship has to be earned. A person doesn't become your mentor just because you reached out to them. In fact, you shouldn't include the question, "Will you be my mentor?" in your initial email. A mentor-mentee relationship is one that has to be built, and develops through continued interaction. Think about what you can bring to the relationship and don't underestimate the value of your perspective (especially when connecting with someone older than you). Make sure to send thank you's, even for the briefest of interactions, and updates on how you've put that person's advice to good use. The positive reinforcement is super gratifying, and will make them more willing to continue helping you out.
5) Time your outreach right. Someone who has just been named on a X under X list or has gotten a lot of press for a recent awards win is going to be receiving a lot of attention—and email. To avoid getting lost in the shuffle, wait until the dust has settled a bit before reaching out. Chances are, the person will have more bandwidth to respond and to give you some of their time.
As February and Black History Month comes to a close, here are a few series/lists where you can find people to reach out to:
- Icons & Rockstars by Blacks in Advertising and the Advertising Club of New York.
- MAIP's Twitter thread of #MAIPAlum who make the industry great.
- Where Are The Boss Ladies? directory of female leaders in the industry.
You got this,