Sometimes, people seek out mentors just because they feel obligated to do so — like making sure there's an oxygen mask stowed above their seat on a plane. Although mentors can feel like a life-saving resource for many, finding someone to play that role in your professional life shouldn't feel like checking off a box. At best, these relationships should be approached with consideration for how both sides will get the most out of it.
So, before you ask anyone for anything, get clear on what you actually want. Think about it this way: If you asked someone to be your mentor and they said, "Sure! What do you need help you with?" — what would you say?
Maybe you'd want to connect with a person who is a few steps ahead of you and can shepherd you through the next key phases of your career. Perhaps you're facing difficulties at work, and want someone to help you identify your blind spots and provide feedback. Or, maybe things in your professional life are fine overall, but there are bigger goals you want to work toward — you just have no idea what to do to get there. These are all valid reasons to seek a mentor, but you have to be specific about what you want from the relationship rather than asking someone else to make sense of your life.
"Be really clear on what your goals are, even if it’s not a five- or 10-year goal," says Rachel Kim, a career coach at SoFi. "For now, or for the next year, what are you trying to do in your life professionally that you think you could benefit from some help?"