Meeting your mentor in person for the first time can be intimidating, especially when the mentors are accomplished PR professionals, as they are in PRSA Silicon Valley’s mentorship program. Maybe you didn’t sleep the night before, have no idea what to talk about, and don’t know what you’re supposed to wear. Is this going to be like an interview or casual conversation with a teacher? Below are eight easy-to-execute tips to help you make the most of this opportunity.
Be respectful – don’t be late
In the professional world, early is on-time and on-time is late. More than likely the person you’re meeting has an extremely busy schedule, and yet is willing to take an hour or so to meet with you. So be respectful of their time and don’t take the chance of being late. Plus, arriving early (at least 10 minutes) will give you time to calm your nerves a bit more than if you are rushing to find a parking spot and arrive out of breath from jogging from one building to the next, trying to find the right room.
Be prepared to talk about yourself
Most likely your mentor’s biography is available online. However, yours may not be (though you should at least have a LinkedIn profile). Be prepared to talk about yourself with your mentor who, especially in the first meeting, is getting to know you. What is your background? What are your passions? Where do you want to be in five years? (If you don’t know, you can always say, “I’m not sure where I’ll end up but in the next five years I’d like to be. . .”). What are your strengths? And be sure to incorporate a few stories that you’d want your mentor to remember about you instead of just reading straight from your resume.
Do your homework and ask questions
You wouldn’t go into a job interview without learning as much as you can about the company or agency. Use that same mindset to prepare for your meeting with your mentor. Read recent news releases, learn about the company’s or agency’s history, products, services, study your mentor’s LinkedIn profile, search their name on YouTube, read their bio on the company or agency website. Doing your homework will help you ask relevant questions, such as what are the most valuable lessons they’ve learned at various points in their careers, or why they transitioned from agency to corporate (or vice versa), or what advice they have about working in a specific industry.
Set SMART goals for your meeting
Think about why you signed up for the mentorship program. Are you looking for an internship or a job after graduation? Do you need advice on time management? Do you want your mentor’s opinion on what classes will best prepare you for a career in PR? Think about these things ahead of time and set at least one SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goal for your mentorship. Having a goal in mind will not only help you ask better questions, but will calm your nerves if you hit one of those ‘what-do-we-talk-about-now-isthis-getting-awkward’ moments.
Ask for two connections
Your mentor wouldn’t be meeting with you if they didn’t want to help you in some way. And one of the most effective ways a mentor can help you is by connecting you with someone relevant to your aspirations, passions, and interests. During the meeting if your mentor hasn’t offered to introduce you to more people, don’t be afraid to ask, “Based on our meeting and what you know about me so far, is there anyone in your network who you think it would be valuable for me to meet?” The answer will almost always be yes. If they can’t think of anyone on the spot and say, “Let me think about it and get back to you,” don’t get discouraged. Give them a few days and then send them an email (or whichever form of contact they prefer you use) to ask for introductions.
When your mentor asks, “What can I do to help?” have an answer ready
At my first meeting with my mentor, I was surprised to be asked this and stumbled my way through an answer about finding a relevant career and connecting me to someone who might be able to help me in that journey. On the drive home, I realized what a great opportunity it was to be asked that question, and how much better it would have been if I had thought about this ahead of time.
If you want to take notes while meeting with your mentor, it’s usually not a problem. However, be polite and ask at the beginning of the meeting, “Do you mind if I take some notes during our conversation?” If you don’t feel comfortable taking notes, be sure to write down everything you can remember immediately after the meeting while it’s still fresh in your mind. Either on paper or smartphone, jot down any company names mentioned, take-aways and advice, action items for yourself, and what you want to ask the next time you meet. At least jot down a few good reasons you want to meet with them again.
Say thanks and follow up
You don’t have to be a professional writer to handwrite a note thanking your mentor for their time. Sending a card in the mail makes a much bigger impression than sending an email, but at least do that. And do one or the other as soon as you get home so you don’t get busy and forget. Doing this shows your mentor you appreciate them taking time out of their busy schedule, and demonstrates how professional you are. Remember, mentors are people too. They were most likely in your position sometime in their career. So be prepared and your mentor meeting will go smoothly. Plus, they’ll be more willing to meet with you again.