Finding Your Perfect (Female) Mentor: What NOT to Do


Carly on the importance of women mentoring women, and how to find the right mentor.

My favourite example of a student eager and willing to learn is Amy Santiago from the television show Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Not only is the show amazing, and Amy as a fully formed character is spectacular, but it’s her absolute need to better herself that captures what it’s really like to be a student following your passion.

On the show Amy searches for mentoring and approval from her precinct captain, and her persistence in getting the mentorship she needs helps drive some of the storylines--and makes her incredibly relatable.

Although there are often men who are helpful and willing to mentor, it is valuable for women to have female mentors, who have faced similar issues to their own, and will have insights on the industry and the workplace that reflect their (gendered) experience. In short, women need female mentors--and this isn't always an easy ask, when there are generally fewer women in leadership positions, and women tend to have more responsibilities when they are (ie. less time for mentoring).

So how do you go about getting a mentor if you're an ambitious woman who wants to develop professionally?

Finding a woman (or man) who embodies the kind of goals you have for your life and is willing to give you the time, advice and support you seek can feel nearly impossible. I’ve been alive for 23 years and I still haven’t the perfect one. But I have begun to figure out what WILL NOT work when seeking a mentor. (Like Edison said of his early failures, “I didn’t fail, I just found 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.”) Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

Don't Be a Suck-Up. 

Everyone wants to hear about how they great they are every once in a while. However, you should feel comfortable expressing your thoughts and ideas to your mentor without fear of them being upset with you. Listen, be genuinely interested, and care--but don't be a Yes Person. This is transparent, and won't ingratiate you to potential mentors--it will just annoy them!

Don't Be a Stalker.

The best part of a mentorship is that people are willing to help and be helped; it’s a beautiful give and take. If you are all too willing to take but they are not willing to give, it can lead to some strange situations. Like you, sending multiple emails on a daily basis trying to get a meeting. This, like in all relationships, is what we call a sign: they’re just not that into you!

Don't Pretend to Be Something You're Not.

This is a tale as old as time. As long as parents have had children they have been saying “just be yourself”. If you’re anything like me, you rolled your eyes at that because what has being yourself ever gotten you? But listen, if I was being mentored by someone who doesn’t know what Hogwarts is, that relationship is doomed to fail. Being yourself is so important in mentoring, you need someone who supports you in all your beautiful weirdness.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask.

It's okay to ask for things to jump-start your relationship--especially if they're specific, achievable things that won't take up a lot of time for the mentor. For example, coming with a request to assist them on a project, to do an interview with them on their area, to write you a letter of recommendation, or to have a conversation with you to help you prepare for a professional task you have coming up. Just asking someone "Can you be my mentor?" might be a little intimidating, because who knows what kind of time commitment that could entail--but asking for a specific thing and letting the relationship grow from there can be a great way to start.

Don't Lose Heart.

It's completely possible that someone you wish could be your mentor just doesn't have the time, or doesn't feel confident to do it. Don't be discouraged and don't take it personally. Just keep your options open and consider who else might be a good candidate.

It's normal to have numerous mentors throughout your life, and often these will overlap and offer different things, and there will be times when you don't have one--and that's okay. But do keep it as a professional goal, because mentors can help open doors and give invaluable advice that will only benefit you in the long run.

by Carly Herriges