In the women's career guide Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg jokes that a woman looking for a mentor is sort of like the bird in the children's book Are You My Mother? Every time you meet a successful and inspiring woman, you may be thinking, "Are you my mentor?" But mentors don't just fall into our laps; finding a mentor is a more active process than that. According to Tiffany Pham, founder and CEO of the women's site Mogul and author of the new book Girl Mogul: Dream It. Do it. Change the World, it starts with a process called "professional fan-girling."
Professional fan-girling is essentially forging professional relationships by reaching out to people you admire, telling them how highly you think of them, and offering to help. You'll have the most success with this process if you're always open to opportunities to find mentors. "See everyone around you as a potential mentor," Pham tells Bustle. "See anyone from whom you can learn as a potential mentor. I personally see everyone — from my direct reports, peers, fellow founders, to more — as mentors. I love to learn from everyone. Everyone knows something better than you, so find joy in discovering what that is in every conversation you have with someone."
Here are some steps to take if you want to find a new mentor, according to Pham, and how to succeed with them.
1. Decide What Skills You Want To Develop
Your mentor doesn't have to be someone in the field you want to go into; it could be anyone with the skillset you want to develop. Pham recommends thinking about where you want to be in your career in a year, five years, and 10 years, then figuring out what skills you need to develop to get there.
"This could be strategy and business development, marketing and branding, content creation and distribution, or product and technology," Pham explains. "Then, work backwards again: who are your role models in each of these skill areas?" Those are your potential mentors.
2. Email The People With The Skills You Want
Don't just focus on one person; cast a wide net and reach out to everyone with skillsets you want to develop. Research each of them so that your connections seem personalized. This research will be the basis of your "professionally fan-girling" emails, says Pham.
3. Tell Them How Much You Admire Them
When you first reach out to a prospective mentor, you don't want to ask them for anything right off the bat. A better place to start is to tell them how much you admire your work.
"Let them know the research you've done on them and their initiatives, so they know you took the time to learn about them," Pham advises. "Humbly always assume that they know nothing about you and won't be taking the time to research, so try to explain who you are or what you do in a few words, in the most exciting way possible to create FOMO. Then, mention that you look forward to collaborating and supporting their initiatives in every way possible — to let them know that this will be a mutually giving relationship."
4. Request A Quick Conversation
It can be intimidating to ask for a busy person's time, so Pham recommends requesting something very basic, like a five-minute phone conversation or 15-minute tea.
"Ask for something that they can't decline," she says. "Then, ask what days and times they would be available — if you provide some initial suggestions, that will make it more likely that they will reply. Finally, thank them, and let them know in advance that you greatly look forward to hearing from them!"
5. Offer To Help Them
If your prospective mentor agrees to talk to you, you can take your relationship to the next level by offering to help them with their work.
"Offer to help and collaborate with them in any way possible — even the most mundane task," Pham says. "Say that you will do it, that you would love to do it. I would tell my mentors to give me anything, anything at all; I wanted to help for free. I wanted to learn."
6. Go Above And Beyond
Once you get the chance to help someone you admire with their work, you can set the stage for future work with them by going above and beyond what they ask of you. Even if your job is as simple as making coffee or maintaining a guest list for an event, make the best coffee or most organized list ever.
"Learn from your mentor through each collaboration opportunity they provide you, whether it's the most mundane task or the most exciting of ventures," Pham says. "Overdeliver on that task or the venture. They'll keep sending you more tasks and inviting you onto more ventures."
7. Take "No" As "Not Right Now"
"Don't worry if you get a 'no' when you reach out," Pham says. "Remember that 'no' is a 'not right now' that will turn into a 'yes.'" Keep your eyes open for future opportunities to work together, and reach back out politely if one comes up.
Most of all, the key to making this work is to remember that mentor relationships are relationships. Make sure to make the connection mutually beneficial, and you'll have not just a mentor but a friend.