Finding the right person to help mentor you throughout your professional life can be critical to your success. There is definitely nothing more valuable than having someone in your corner cheering you on and steering you in the right direction.
Because your mentors will be so valuable to you, it’s important that you remain a value to them as well. No one can constantly pour into you without somehow attaining some gain as well. Which is why asking to “pick someone’s brain” over coffee simply does not cut it.
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Asking for coffee instead of something valuable cheats both you and your mentor. Granted, if the two of you have the kind of relationship where catching up over coffee is a regularly and agreeable thing, that’s more than okay. But if you’re still establishing this relationship or are reaching out for the first time, an approach with more substance would be better.
“Can I meet you for coffee” is very vague, doesn’t lead with value and can easily be ignore to focus on more detailed requests. Try asking for one of the four things below instead.
An informational interview
Informational interviews are amazing ways to find potential jobs and internships, to network and to get to know other professionals better. They’re great because the person on the other end knows you’re looking for something specific, and won’t waste their time with a nondescript question and answer session.
Be as detailed as you can when making your request. “I would love to sit down for an informational interview” doesn’t sound as grabbing as, “If you’re able, would we be able to sit down for 15-20 minute to talk about X, Y and Z.” Be to the point, have an objective and an agenda.
A volunteer opportunity
The best way to get to know more about what and how someone does something is to see them do it. If someone you admire or want to mentor you is working on a project or event that you could learn from, ask if they need volunteers. Help with set up, emails or anything else they need that showcases how valuable you are to them, and gets you close enough to learn and network.
Be sure to follow up after with a thank you and reminder that they can always reach out if they need you in the future. You want them to think of you first when opportunities come up. And now that they’ve seen you in action, they will!
A less time consuming option
The worst part about in-person meetings is when you reach the end feeling like everything discusses could have been handled over an email or phone call. It may seem like offering to buy someone coffee when you’re trying to find out about open positions with their company is considerate, but it’s really a time suck for them.
Instead, send them a well written email, and let them decide if a phone call or in-person meeting would be more beneficial.
Nothing at all
Offering value is key in these relationships. Giving will always get you further than taking. Instead of asking for anything, what can you do or offer to benefit your mentor? A thank you note, check in email or sharing a useful article might be just as beneficial as an in person meeting in the long run. It’s not always about what someone can do for you!