Let’s take a second and think about all the times in our lives when we’ve had to lean on others for advice. For me, a fairly extensive list comes to mind. There was my high school guidance counselor, who literally put me on the path to my future profession. There was that one professor in college who guided me to a formative summer semester abroad. There was my truly gifted aesthetician, who showed me the way to better eyebrows. Bottom line: I've relied on others many times for guidance.
When it comes to navigating our way through our education, our careers, or just life in general, it helps to have a little (okay, a lot of) backup. The hunt for a mentor in any industry can prove overwhelming, but potential mentors in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields may be particularly hard to come by — after all, they're frighteningly busy people.
In the spirit of bettering ourselves, we’ve partnered with Dice — your go-to resource for discovering opportunities, insights and connections in technology — to walk you through the ins and outs of finding, gaining, and maintaining a relationship with a mentor.
Define What You Need
First things first: ask yourself what you need, or what you could potentially gain, from a mentorship. This question will help you figure out how to navigate finding, "The One." While the idea of approaching others can be scary, remember that it doesn't have to be that way.
“The beauty of STEM is that it can be exceptionally collaborative and supportive. A mentor doesn't need to be someone who is five levels above you in your career; it can be horizontal as well — think people who are at your same level,” says Danielle Letayf, Head of Programs and Community at #BUILTBYGIRLS.
Look Within Your Network
The next step is to make moves to actually find a mentor. While "networking" seems like an obvious way to make connections, it can be more difficult to actually follow through with the practice. Think about your connections from past jobs or internships — could an old boss or co-worker link you up with someone whose experience you might find valuable? What about your high school teachers or college professors who you always found to be particularly insightful? And don't forget about the people within your social circle — like your roommate's aunt, or your best friend's aunt — who would probably be more than willing to help, should you ask.
Build Your Network
Reestablishing connections is a great way to network, but if you feel like you've tapped all your resources (or just want to expand beyond them), there are plenty of ways to do so. Try joining your university's alumni association, or find events that draw likeminded individuals on Eventbrite, Meetup, and other social networking sites. If group networking IRL seems a little too intimidating, you can also do extensive online research for people in the field you want to be in and are curious about, and ask them to speak on the phone or meet in a more intimate setting.
Another often overlooked option? Volunteering. “The amount of real talk I got about the medical field by volunteering was astounding — so much of it I never would have learned from Google or reading a book,” says Melinda Eller, a former advisor for the Lang Youth Medical Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Put Yourself Out There
Whether you’re emailing out of the blue or showing up to work the room at a corporate happy hour, be prepared to make yourself known and show that you aren't there to waste your mentor's time.
“Really put yourself out there, because opportunities won't simply come to you," says Letayf. "Go to events that merge your interests with the professional world, message someone you admire or want to learn more about, or ask someone you know to introduce you to someone they're connected to. The key is to stay curious and continue these conversations over time.”
When it comes to connecting outside of a networking event or introduction email, be thoughtful when articulating what you hope to learn.
“Telling your mentor what you're looking for in the relationship is super important, because it means that as a mentee, you've sat down and thought through how you can use your time wisely and efficiently," Letayf says. "Presenting goals for your time together will always impress a mentor and will actually help steer the conversation."
Whatever You Do, Don't Be Intimidated
“When it comes down to it, it's really just meeting other likeminded people and having conversations about how you can merge your interests with the working world, solve different problems in a smart way, and figure out what you want to do next in your career,” said Letayf. "Once you’ve redefined how you approach your search for a mentor — and realized it’s not so scary after all — then you can start thinking of who might be a good fit."
This post is sponsored by Dice.