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Those who have never worked with a mentor before often don’t even know where to start, and that challenge becomes even more daunting in the middle of a pandemic.

Mentorship can be a career game changer; in fact, most professionals can trace their success back to a single connection or introduction that made a huge difference in the trajectory of their career. Someone who believed in them or simply offered the right advice at the right time. Today, making those connections or requesting those introductions is especially challenging without the usual access to resources such as career centres and guidance counsellors.

Fortunately there are plenty of online resources that can help students and young professionals connect virtually with experts and find guidance. Finding a mentor starts with cultivating a strong professional network. I sat down with Mark Beckles, who leads youth strategy and innovation at Royal Bank of Canada, who laid out five steps that anyone can take to land a mentor. Consider this your recipe for building a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship, even from afar.

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Step one: Introspection

Before you begin looking to others, it’s important to first take a good, hard look at yourself. Only after you assess your own goals, and the challenges that you will likely face in reaching them, can you consider who might offer the support you need.

Mr. Beckles recommends starting with a self-assessment tool, such as RBC Upskill, to see how your skills and interests align with relevant job opportunities, and then consider how a contact in your professional network and ultimately a mentor might you develop whatever skills gaps remain. You can then get matched to professionals through Ten Thousand Coffees' more than 80 private mentoring and networking communities at Canadian universities and colleges.

“As you arm yourself with that background knowledge, you’ll start to understand how to identify opportunities based on very specific examples,” he says. “For example, I want to know more about marketing, because that’s what Upskill recommends to me, I’m going to be really prescriptive in the contacts I look for to help me understand the marketing industry.”

Identify the industries, potential companies, and even job postings that are of interest to you and then you can bring those specific examples to a potential mentor. It’s okay to be this prescriptive and ask the mentor for help, or to identify someone in their own network who might be able to offer guidance or a perspective.

Step two: Exploration

Once you’ve identified how a mentor can help advance your career goals, it’s time to start searching for potential candidates to join your network.

Mr. Beckles recommends looking first to your social community or alumni network – start by describing what you’re looking to learn and ask if they know of anyone in your field of interest that they could introduce you to. You should know that exploration is going to be continuing process. Building a network and ultimately finding a mentor, requires commitment and follow-through.

Step three: Research

Once you have a few potential individuals in mind, it’s important to research your field of interest as well as the contact themselves. “Go into the conversation having done some homework,” recommends Mr. Beckles. “Do a search on Google and LinkedIn, then ask questions to go beyond what’s easily available online.”

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While many assume mentorship relationships primarily serve to benefit a mentee, it’s important to consider what you have to offer a mentor. What many youths forget is that professionals learn as they mentor you. As a mentee, you’re giving professionals a chance to meet someone new and gain insights into your generation, which helps their career as well.

Step four: Building Your Network

Once you have a strong understanding of what professionals in your field could offer, what you hope to gain from the interaction, and what you might be able to offer them, it’s time to reach out, introduce yourself and start building your professional network.

“The initial outreach needs to be an expression of interest in growing your network and possibly being mentored. You need to articulate what you are hoping to get out of the relationship, but also the value you are hoping to create through the professional relationship," Mr. Beckles says.

"Your initial ask should be a virtual coffee or a 30-minute phone conversation. When possible, use an online video platform such as FaceTime or Google Hangouts, take a professional approach and treat it as though you were actually meeting in person. If that meeting goes well, then ask if there is a willingness to meet a second time. Ask for help, ask for guidance and advice, and be open to how your new contact would like to structure the relationship,” he says.

Step five: Repeat as necessary

If your first few attempts to connect with a potential mentor aren’t successful, it’s important not to get discouraged. Mentor relationships often take time to develop. Seeking a mentor most often requires persistence and resilience – it can take five to 10 attempts before one develops into a mentoring relationship. Have fun with the process, get to know new people, and know that you’ll likely cross paths with these people in the future.

“If one relationship doesn’t evolve into a mentorship, there’s going to be a multiplicity of others,” he says. “Get past the disappointment – which might be hard for some – and as my mother would say, get back on the horse. Be resilient and persistent.”

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Dave Wilkin is a serial entrepreneur and founder of TenThousandCoffees.com – an award winning virtual mentoring and career development technology.

This article supports Ten Thousand Coffees as part of national career month. In partnership with Canada’s major colleges and universities, Ten Thousand Coffees’ leading technology smart matches industry professionals to provide career mentoring and networking to students and recent grads. Ten Thousand Coffees is making virtual career conversations easy, find your school and sign-up for free today at tenthousandcoffees.com/schools

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