You hear it all the time, “it’s for networking,” “if you want to succeed, you have to network,” or my personal favorite, “college is mostly for the network.”  While you may know how important developing your network is, how to do it is a bit more challenging.  It comes down primarily to the idea of knocking on the door.

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Finding a Mentor –

We all have had that professional crush, that “wow, would I like to work with him/her.” They have an amazing job, dress well, healthy family, you see everything you want for yourself in someone else. So, you want them to be your mentor, but how in the world do you approach that?  Approach the person with a common interest to start a conversation. Keep in mind that finding a good mentor is as much about personal fit as professional idolization.  That means the conversation doesn’t start with, “Will you be my mentor?” but instead starts with what you find exciting about the person’s professional background, and why you are interested in learning more about their experience.  It often evolves into an understanding of the values that drive a person’s decisions that has led them to where they are, and a need to ensure that you are on the same page with not just the end goal of where they are, but why and how they got there.

Here is what I did. There was a board meeting for my school, where I, as the newly elected student body president, am invited to present on behalf of the student body. I read online before the meeting that there was a new board of trustee member, a highly regarded entrepreneur who works in education. I immediately said to myself, “I need to meet him, and talk to him about all my ideas and love for entrepreneurship.”

Knock knock (that’s opportunity), I see him getting food before the meeting and think to myself, this is my chance to meet him! I came up and said “Hi, I read your bio, really love the work that you have done, I would love to sit down and talk to you about entrepreneurship.”  While I am sure I looked a little nervous, it was clear I was eager to listen to him. These successful people love sharing their story.  

He sat down with me, talked for about 30 minutes about the do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship, whether business school is worth it, and my past businesses. This was enough to get his card, and his card was enough to give him a call asking advice about a major business decision I had to make. Finally, I worked with him in his company and learned more from him than I could have ever imagined.

The moral of the story is this:  If you want someone to be your mentor, approach them and spread your love for a common interest between you two, maybe entrepreneurship!