Recruiting Your Perfect Mentor

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If I've learned anything about success in my relatively short time on Earth, it's that in order to have any chance to obtain it, it's really important to surround yourself with people that are better at what they do than you are at what you do.

Having friends and mentors that inspire you to be the best you can be will make a huge difference in your life.

Everyone can think of somebody they really look up to - someone that embodies what they'd like to accomplish themselves - but oftentimes these people hold some kind of celebrity status and feel completely out of reach.

You should know that the right celebrities, though, are actually easy to get a hold of and even very open to new relationships if you approach them genuinely.

Who are my perfect mentors?

There are all kinds of people that have created amazing success for themselves, but not all of them are the right fit for you. Don't get me wrong, you can learn something life changing from anyone, but for now, lets focus on finding a good prospect that really aligns with you and your mission.

For starters, unless you're trying to become a famous actor or musician, movie stars and famous rock bands are out. Even if that is what you're trying to become, I wouldn't start there.

Your prospects should have a solid connection to what you're trying to do. They don't have to be in the exact same industry. In fact, I would recommend they not be. You can learn a lot from someone not directly related to your field.

You should be able to draw some sort of path in your mind between your goals and theirs, just don't get too strict.

If I wanted to start a charity, I probably wouldn't go calling up Tony Hsieh (founder of Zappos), but I might try to make a connection with Matt Flannery (co-founder of Kiva).

Whether they're local or somewhere far away is much less of an issue these days, but you'll probably find that you make a better connection with someone you can meet face to face and actually hang out with, get to know, and really become friends with.

If you're thinking to yourself, "I have no one to look up to where I live!," trust me, you actually do.

I think a really important distinction to make right now is that when I say "celebrity", I don't really mean a big name or a world renowned star.

What I mean is someone that is well known for being incredibly good at doing something you want to learn how to do.

That can come in many shapes and sizes - a local business owner that your community loves, a politician doing great things in their jurisdiction, an artist that's creating things that you really enjoy.

Don't settle for a bad fit, but don't think you can't find a great mentor just because you don't live in LA or New York.

If you're not sure what you want to do yet, that's okay too.

Connecting with your perfect mentor is a great way to figure out what direction you should be heading. I'd even suggest finding a couple of them. Pick out some interesting people around you that are doing inspiring things and dive right in.

A good mentor is going help you learn the skills to become successful at anything you attempt, not just teach you how to go through the motions of a particular industry, so you don't need to limit your options too much.

Make the call, make a friend.

The thing to remember when you're first establishing contact with your mentor prospect is that you're not just out to be a leech.

If you show up in someone's inbox or on the other end of the phone sounding like you want to milk them for everything they've got, you're going to get the cold shoulder if you get any response at all.

When you're trying to make it in a new field, the most important thing you can have is friends, and friends share things with each other. One person sucking the life out of another is not friendship, it's parasitic.

As you go in search of your perfect mentor, be a friend, not a parasite.

You'll probably find that in trying to contact your perfect mentors you run into people and systems that intercept you before you can get through.

These are what we call gate keepers. They're the receptionists, automated telephone systems, and email auto-responders that allow your perfect mentor to keep doing their thing while dozens of other people just like you try to get a hold of them.

You have an edge, though, because you're going to do it better.

If you try to call and get a receptionist that won't patch you through, don't get angry and definitely don't give up. This person controls who gets to talk to who and if you spend a few minutes making a new friend instead of an adversary, you might find your luck changing quickly.

Try asking what they would do if they were in your position and wanted to get a hold of this person. Gatekeepers love to be in control and they love to feel smart. Asking them for advice is a great tactic to get them on your side.

If you still get the cold shoulder, try calling early in the morning or late in the evening when the receptionist isn't there, but the person you actually need to get in touch with is.

The Sneaky Email Tactic

If you're trying to get a hold of your prospect via email, I have a tactic that is nearly 100% guaranteed to work, but it must be used with care.

Email is a really tough medium for first impressions. It lacks all of the really important non-verbal cues that come with other forums of communication.

However, email is often the only way to get a hold of your celebrity mentor prospect. That's why I developed a little email tactic that works on nearly anyone with an exploding inbox.

Everyone has an email "profile," or a type of message that gets their attention: a cordial hello, praise for something they've done, a direct request, etc.

If you don't get it right on the first try, future attempts are unlikely to succeed unless you put a lot of time between messages. Your first impression didn't work and now you're easy to ignore because you're just a line of text in a sea of emails.

In order to give yourself the best shot at success, try giving yourself more first impressions.

Set up a dummy email address, pick a first impression format, and go for it. Keep trying with different accounts and different approaches until you find the format that they prefer to respond to, then keep the format and resend a similar message with your real email account.

Ta da, your instant best first impression.

This is the strategy I used when I needed to interview a group of busy architects for a project in college and it worked beautifully.

Warning: This is a powerful tactic and must be used for good, not evil. Relationships started using this tactic under false pretenses will eventually crumble, and not prettily.

All you're trying to do is gauge how someone prefers to be communicated with when non-verbal cues are stripped away, not to manipulate people. Consider yourself warned.

It's important to remember that once you've gotten though, you've got this person's attention. They were kind enough to grant it to you and they didn't have to, so respect that and don't abuse it.

The Follow Through

You should get a pretty good idea of how your mentor likes to communicate from your initial contact, so remember that and use it to build your relationship. Learning how to communicate a message differently to different people is a good life skill to have no matter what you're trying to accomplish.

You're probably not going to find your perfect mentor after a couple of emails and a phone call, so try not to get impatient at the beginning.

Build relationships with genuine people and always keep your eyes open for new opportunities. It may turn out that you don't find the perfect fit on the first try, but other connections you make can eventually lead you there. Be strategic.

The best mentorships don't typically even come from solicitations for them. They're what develop from a mutual respect between someone with a vast amount of knowledge and experience and someone with a tenacious desire to learn and grow.

Try not to go into the situation looking for a traditional mentor/mentee relationship. Better to simply look for an inspiring friend.

Also, never forget that there is no such thing as a one way relationship. You should offer feedback and ideas to your mentor just as often as they offer advice and guidance to you.

Basically, just be genuine, be kind, and be curious and you'll get along just fine.

Now over to you: What advice do you have for finding the perfect mentor?

Tyler Tervooren founded, where he shares research and insights about mastering your psychology by taking smarter risks. For more, join his Smart Riskologist Newsletter.