Sometimes when searching for the next best step to take for your career, it can be valuable to see what other people in your position have done. Or perhaps you are seeking a particular achievement in your career (being hired by a specific company, gaining a promotion, or being selected for an award). Talking to other people who have done the thing you want to do can be both a source of instruction and inspiration.
In general, people enjoy lending a hand to others, to see their knowledge being of use to another person. However, approaching a potential mentor can be intimidating. The key solution for this is simple. You just need to make it as easy for the person to help you as possible.
If you are emailing them, keep your message short. You might want to give them the full context of your unique situation, but you are also far liklier to get a quick response if you structure your message to have just a few, straightforward lines:
- A greeting and expression of appreciation for that person’s work and experience. A specific example of this appreciation might be “I was inspired by your deeply personal photographic essays published in The Photographer Quarterly last year.”
- A line about who you are, and the direction you are hoping to head in. For example “I recently gained a Diploma of Photo Imaging at TAFE, and I’d love to work towards one day having my own work published in a magazine like The Photographer Quarterly.”
- A very specific query that you might think they can help you with. “Do you have any tips or advice for having work commissioned in a magazine? Are there places I could show my work that might get me noticed by editors?”
The potential mentor can then ask you if they need more context for your query. They also might provide you contact information for someone better able to answer your query. In our example above, the photographer might then give you the email address for the editor of the magazine.
The critical thing is to keep your query concise and clear, making it much easier to give you help, fast.
Some other examples of good, specific requests:
- “I’ve just landed my first consulting role but I’m finding myself terrified at every client meeting! How did you keep your confidence boosted when you started out?”
- “I’ve started my lawn-mowing business but I’m having trouble finding new clients. How did you get the word out about your company?”
- “I’ve just graduated in Multimedia Design but I just have no idea where to look for my first job. How did you get started in your career?”
Remember, the person you are contacting, whether via email or in person, is not obligated to assist you. Some people will regularly receive similar queries and simply don’t have the time to respond. Your best bet is to seek out someone who is only a little ahead of you in their career, as they are more likely to have time to respond to your query. And always be polite and respectful no matter what response you receive – treating others professionally is good sense no matter what industry you work in!