Finding a mentor

A long time ago, I had it put to me that “if I’m the smartest guy in the room; I’m in the wrong room”. When this concept was first presented to me, I wasn’t certain how sure of its value, but as time has gone by, I’ve come to believe in it strongly. Life presents a whole range of opportunities to learn and develop our skills, but we must go looking for them. If I’m the smartest person in a room, I’m not likely to learn all that much; but if I’m surrounded by people who have succeeded in achieving their goals and can teach me how to do the same; well, it’s a winner for me! In my opinion, the first step toward achieving this is finding a mentor.

It’s a no-brainer for me; if you want to learn to be a better investor, or musician, or writer, the key is to find someone who already does it (and preferably does it well!). But how?

Five steps to finding a mentor

  1. What do you want to learn? The first step is to decide what you want your mentor to teach you. For example, I have a mentor for building professional relationships, another for negotiation, another for personal finance and investing and one to help improve my writing. You’re unlikely to find a mentor who is brilliant at everything you want to learn, so break down your ambition into specific categories and activities.
  2. Draw up a list of possible mentoring candidates. People are busy; the more senior they are, the more this is true. Unless you’re incredibly persuasive, you’re unlikely to get the first person you ask to say yes, so draw up a list for review.
  3. Research your list. What experience do these people have? If you’re looking for a mentor in real-estate deals it’s no good approaching someone who has only ever owned a single property – they might be willing to spend time with you, but cannot demonstrate that they know any more than you do! Also, take the time to consider their mentoring credentials – do you think you’ll have a productive relationship together, or are you likely to clash and disagree with each other?
  4. Have an agenda. It’s no good going to your mentor and saying ‘I want you to mentor me’. This is such a nebulous statement that both you and they are unlikely to make the best use of your time together. Instead, pen a set of questions and topics you want to find out about – do your research and research their background; why can they help you over anyone else?
  5. Make your approach. Once you’ve done your research and planned what you want to get out of your relationship, sit down and pen a personal note to each contact. You don’t need to make it a Magnum Opus (remember, these are busy people!), but you need to detail what you’re after, why they’re a good fit, and if possible, what benefits they can expect back from the relationship.

You might have to try a few people before you find someone who agrees to your request. Don’t take it personally if people turn you down. They might be too busy, or not feel that they can give you what you’re looking for.

Making the most of the mentor-mentee relationship

Once you’ve succeeded in finding a mentor, the hard work doesn’t stop. You might have to pay a fee to secure access, but more often this will take the form of time, rather than financial remuneration. Don’t forget that you’re likely asking a respected contact to give up a few hours of their time for free – make sure that you don’t waste it. I’ve mentored a few people on various subjects; public speaking and writing for the most part. In my opinion, the best mentees were those who approached me well-prepared and acted on what we discussed, rather than treating the sessions as the opportunity to ‘chat’ for an hour.


I get approached a few times a year by peers looking for mentoring. They usually find me through friends and colleagues, or through various professional networks which I’m a part of. If you’re struggling to populate your initial list, it’s time to start searching. Get out to networking and industry events, meet people and be open-minded. I’m fortunate to live in London, which provides a wealth of fantastic networking opportunities at my door. By attending free seminars, presentations and dinners, you’ll create openings to pitch a new relationship. Even if they say no, most people are responsive to an approach of saying “Hey, I really respect what you’re working on and I’d love to learn from you. Could I take you for a coffee next week to find out more?”. Most successful individuals recognise that they have much to share with others and see the value in providing mentorship.

Make sure you’re clear about what you want and make it easy for your mentor to provide answers to your questions. You won’t know these from the start as you don’t know what you don’t know, but you must play an active part in guiding your mentor through the topics you think are most useful to you, and away from information which you might already know.

If you follow these tips, I’m certain you’ll make a success of finding a mentor.