5 Steps to Find and Cultivate a Mentor

New to Contracts | 5 Steps to Find and Cultivate a Mentor by Jack TerschluseMy life thus far has been a product of mentors who have taken their time (which they don’t have much of) to give me their hard-fought wisdom.

In my experience, there are two types of mentors: the first type is in our lives by osmosis (think parents, siblings, teachers, etc.). With this type of mentor, you don’t necessarily need to find them. For instance, my favorite high school teacher happened to be assigned to me like most other teachers in high school, but yet spent a lot of time helping me with college applications, my essay, and selecting a college. Or consider my parents and grandparents who instilled in me the meaning of hard work, determination, and generosity.

The second type of mentor, however, you need to find. People who have a non-biased, third-party perspective, who will give you that tough love, don’t find you on their own. For instance, in the working world, you may not feel comfortable discussing a problem with your boss or discussing with them your short-term or long-term career desires beyond your current company. But these are critical discussions to have; without them, will you take that risk in taking a role outside your comfort zone, will you have the sounding board to have that uncomfortable but necessary frank conversation with a coworker, or will you have someone to tell you that you are wrong? The below steps have worked for me and may help you find a mentor while accelerating your career in the process.

1. Consider Your Ideal Mentor and Be Ruthless in Your Definition

  • Consider Prior Constructive Feedback. Be honest with yourself about constructive feedback that you have received over the years, especially the feedback that has come up more than once. Write these points down.
  • Real Mentor. You want your mentor to be someone who has either experienced growth through the same or similar constructive feedback or is in the ideal position you want to be in in 5 to 20 years. For instance, if you are someone who struggles to wrangle your calendar, your mentor could be someone who, among other qualities, has a great organizational system. Additionally, if you see yourself as the general counsel of a public company in 20 years, or as the director of lease contract management of a real estate company, write that down too. You want a mentor who has taken practical steps to overcome constructive feedback and can give you practical advice to get you where you want to be.
  • Define. After conducting the above exercise, narrow these characteristics to a list of three. This allows you to be ruthless in finding and selecting a mentor that will provide actionable value to your career. Sure, a mentor who is currently a GC at a public company can give great advice if that is what you want, but imagine finding a GC at a public company who is a great public speaker, is really skilled at redlining, and made the transition from a private company to a public company. Taking the time to be ruthless in your definition will inevitably lead to a longer time to find a mentor, but will provide more value.

2. Send Out Requests for a Mentor

  • Post on LinkedIn. You may be surprised at the amount of people who directly want to mentor you or know someone who might.
  • Ask your law school or other place of education. Contact your law school or educational institution career center. They will likely know someone who would be happy to mentor you.
  • Join professional organizations. These organizations are a wealth of networking opportunities. Find a few people who fit your mentoring profile, then offer to buy them coffee.
  • Ask your coworkers, peers, friends, and family. Ask your network if they have anyone they could recommend and could reach out on your behalf.
  • Ask your outside counsel or other lawyers and contract professionals. These individuals have an interest in assisting you, as it reflects well on them as your service provider, and since they likely have vibrant networks that they can leverage for you.
  • Attend networking events and actually network. In-person networking events are returning and they are a great place to connect with mentors in real life. Make sure you attend networking events with a goal in mind. Who do you want to meet? What questions could you ask to learn more about them? If you’re interested in networking with in-house lawyers, then Contract Nerds is hosting in-person mixers in Los Angeles and Seattle this summer!

3. Have an Initial Meeting with Potential Mentors

  • Schedule the Meeting. Once you have a list of potential mentors, or perhaps just one “candidate,” decide which ones you would like to have as your mentor. Then set up an introductory meeting. I would not recommend setting up meetings with mentors who you are unsure of, as this would be rude. This meeting should be casual where you both get to know each other. By the end of the meeting, share with them that you are interested in having them as a mentor, why you think that, and that you would greatly appreciate it if they would consider this.
  • Work on Their Time. When you schedule this introductory meeting, and throughout the mentorship relationship, it is important that you work on their time, their time zone, etc. to show that this mentorship relationship will not be a hassle for them. Pro tip: Use their administrative admin if they have one, and treat this person as well as you would treat your mentor (see gratitude section below).
  • Offer to Help. Mentors are usually pretty busy with their full-time job and mentoring others. A powerful method to get even closer to them is to offer to help them with a personal task or project. For example, offer to help them set up for an event they are hosting, or offer to take notes at a webinar they cannot attend.

4. Establish Your Expectations and Meeting Cadence

  • Agenda. Will you send an agenda before each meeting, or will you come to the meeting with what’s on your mind that day, or somewhere in between? Work with your mentor to define what will work best for you. There is no best practice here in my opinion; rather, what works best for your personality types?
  • Cadence. Will you meet bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly? Again, there is no best practice here in my opinion; rather, what works best for your personality types?
  • Duration. If you are meeting more frequently, I recommend 30-minute meetings that have a set topic. If you are meeting less frequently, I recommend one-hour meetings that can either have an agenda or not.
  • Rescheduling. What is your comfort level rescheduling? It is, in my opinion, a best practice to establish that if a fire-drill comes up at work, you should be able to reschedule, of course, within reasonable limits and with respect to each other’s time.

5. Show Your Gratitude, Consistently

  • E-gift cards. You can email Starbucks gift cards. Enough said.
  • Handwritten thank you notes. Handwritten thank you notes break through the noise of crowded email inboxes and LinkedIn messages. The time it takes to write these letters, find stamps, and put them in the mailbox shows your gratitude on another level.
  • Social Media Engagement. If your mentor is a frequent poster or content creator, be sure to engage with their posts by liking them and leaving comments.
  • Content. Mentorships can be a two-way street, and often these are the best ones. If you see a great article, book, or webinar that your mentor would find particularly relevant, send it to them!

My next blog will address how to find peers who are in the trenches with you, who are not necessarily mentors in the traditional sense, but with whom you can grow side-by-side.

*                       *                       *

Tune in to more articles in the New to Contracts? series by Jack Terschluse—Corporate Counsel and Head of Procurement at Balto­—exclusively here on the Contracts Blog. If you’re not already a subscriber, we welcome you to subscribe here to our weekly newsletter providing new articles, free events, and other resources on contracts. #contractnerds #newtocontracts


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