By Laurel House
“Pick their brain until it bleeds.” Hollywood’s Michael Ovitz, my mentor since I was 19 years old, advised me to do just that when I find someone whose career I want to emulate. Of course, you’ve got to have a little more tact than simply that, but you get the picture.
The best way to get a leg up and put your success on the fast track is to find and secure a high profile mentor in your field. A mentor will show you the ropes, teach you the insider tricks, and tell you where they screwed up and wasted time as well as what worked most effectively and efficiently.
Looking the Part
More than letting you in and giving you an industry blueprint, a mentor can help mold you, giving you tips on everything from a proper handshake, to how to act in certain business social situations, or what to say in an email response to a potential new client. That might sound petty and trite, but it often truly is the littlest things that make the biggest difference. If your mentor is going to help you get a foot in the door, you sure better be presentable when you make your entrance.
It Is What You Make It
Every mentor/mentee relationship is what you make it. You will get more out of it if you put more into it. By putting more in, that often means giving up your free time and asking if you can shadow him in meetings, if you can sit in the corner and listen at his speaking engagements, if you can read the books that most influenced him, if you can take a look at contracts that he is working on or deals that he has closed. Offer to help on any projects that he is working on- for free. It’s doing your diligence. Ask questions- always be prepared with questions. If he ever says “do you have any questions about this?” Ask one. He is giving you an opening to learn more. Showing interest will get you far. But don’t be too aggressive or too needy. Remember that even if he has taken you under his wing and even seems chummy with you, you are still just his mentee and you need to respect his time and the unnecessary energy that he is investing into you. Remember: his time is very valuable. Be appreciative of any bones you get. Even if they are few and far between.
You’ve Been Vetted
Sure, you can learn a lot from your mentor, but what does a mentor say about you? Another executive or CEO will see that you have already been vetted. Your mentor invested in you, believes in you enough to have put time and energy into you, maybe even introduced you to key players and connections. If they believe in you, someone else will too.
How to Score a High Profile Mentor
There are many ways to get a mentor, but regardless of the route, you have to have the Gumption and Grace to ask for it. I did. When I was 19 years old I contacted the then most powerful man in the entertainment industry to be my mentor- Michael Ovitz. And it worked. You would be amazed how few people have the guts to get up and ask. Show a little interest and you already have an advantage. So you have the Gumption and Grace, but now you need the 3rd- “G”- Guidance…
Internship Job Boards: Internships are a great way to start working with someone who could end up being your mentor. It may be free work, but you will be getting paid in the form advice, insight, experience, and relationships. Look on campus job boards, on craigslist, or on internship websites. Once you have a lead, compose an email that is smart, grammatically correct, brief, and eye catching.
Pinpoint, then Email: If there is a certain industry leader who you specifically want to be your mentor, see if you can find their personal (or their personal assistant’s) email address. How? Look on their company website. No email to that specific person? Call their office and ask for his/her email address. You can also mail a letter- Yes, in the mail. It may have been several years ago, but that’s how I contacted Ovitz to be my mentor. A well-written, thought out letter. Include your phone number, email address, printed and signed name so that it doesn’t appear to be a form, mass letter to any number of potential mentors.
Broaden Your Reach- Contact a Company: Not sure exactly who you want to intern for, but you know the type of industry, or even a target company that you would like to find a mentor from? Oftentimes companies will post internships on their website. No listing on the company website? Call the company and ask if they are taking interns or if any of the executives are looking to mentor. You may have to submit your enquiry without even knowing exactly to whom it’s going, but that’s ok. It is going to someone, and that someone will look at your email and read it (or else they wouldn’t have taken the time to post the listing).
Bottom line: Ask! The worst thing they can say is no. Once you get the internship or secure a mentor, treat that relationship like a job. They are not your friend, even though they may talk to you in a friendly tone and on off business hours. Respect their time. Be diligent. Show them how hard working and dedicated you are. LISTEN to everything they say. Ask questions. Take notes. Then, as Ovitz told me: “Pick their brain until it bleeds.”
House is an entrepreneur who has transformed her 7 million views on YouTube into a lifestyle brand called QuickieChick, with her 4th book- “QuickieChick’s Cheat Sheet to Life, Love, Food, Fitness, Fashion and Finance on a Less than Fabulous Budget” (St. Martin’s, May 2012), now available everywhere books are sold.