Some of the most valuable educational experiences in college won’t happen in a classroom.

College offers the opportunity to travel, broaden and expand your horizons and even build a network of important relationships that will help you far beyond the campus environs. One of the many relationships that it’s important to develop while in college is that of a career mentor.

1. Know What You Want

As Joe Jackson said back in 1984, You Can’t Get What You Want (Till you know what you want). Cultivating a mentor means asking for help but asking for help involves knowing what it is you need help with.

Sometimes, you don’t know what you want to do or what path you want to pursue, so a mentor can help you figure that out. The point is, when you approach a mentor, you should have a clear idea of what it is you want them to help you do.

They can’t decide whether they can help you if you don’t even know what it is you need their help with.

2. Select A Few Potential Candidates

Finding a mentor has a few things in common with dating. First, it’s all about finding the right fit

and not everyone you approach will turn out to be one. You may have to approach a few potentials candidates before you find one willing to meet with you.

Just like with dating, you will also have to learn to take rejection in stride and not let it derail you.

One way in which finding a mentor is not like dating is the type of person you are looking for. 

A good mentor is not necessarily someone you like or someone you want to be friends with.

Sometimes, a mentor will tell you hard truths and push you in ways you might not be entirely comfortable with.

When considering a mentor, try to keep emotion and feeling out of it and instead focus solely on their achievements, connections, accomplishments or qualifications.

3. Set Up an Appointment

Once you find someone willing to consider being your mentor, it is important to schedule some time to meet with them face-to-face. During that time, you will want to lay out what it is you hope they can do for you. 

Eventually, you will want to work together to come up with a plan to help you accomplish your goals, but initially, you just want to give them an idea of your hopes and expectations.

Again, if you don’t know what your specific goals are, you can let them know you hope that they can help you figure that out.

Bonus Tip: You can meet with a potential mentor in their office, but you might get an even better response by giving them a chance to get out of their office. Coffee meetings have become something of a standard, but a lot of people don’t even drink coffee. Try asking for a “walking meeting” instead.

4. Map Out A Plan

Regardless of whether you know which direction you want to head or need help to figure it out, both will require a plan. 

Sometimes, your mentor may help you identify individual steps necessary to accomplish your goals, while occasionally they may have recommendations what to do to help you decide where to go.

Whatever they suggest, you need to be willing to put the time and energy into accomplishing the tasks they lay out for you and extend trust. Periodically, your mentor may propose tasks or activities you don’t see the point of. The answers you are looking for might lie just outside your comfort zone. 

Building a career takes hard work that starts in college, but the work itself is yours to do, not your mentor’s.

While there are certain boundaries a good mentor should never cross, don’t be too eager to throw in the towel just because they might direct you to do something that may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first.

5. Meet Regularly

Remember that your mentor is both busy and doing you a favor. That means the impetus will be on you to remain in communication and trying to set up regular meetings, and not just for the sake of them. 

Encounters should be an opportunity for you to report on your progress and seek advice on next steps. 

A counselor’s job is to help provide guidance along the way.

While your mentor may open a few doors, what you do once you are inside of them is all up to you.

Even with a guide, opportunities don’t come along as often as you might think, so you want to prepare for them when they do. Sometimes, that means waiting until your mentor says you are ready, which can be hard especially if you think you are ready before your mentor does.

Learn to wait, be patient and if you will ask someone to be your mentor, learn to trust them. 

While we’ve all seen the Hollywood movies where the older, wiser, experienced (sometimes somewhat jaded) guide stumbles across a youth with promise and takes them under their wing, the truth is establishing a mentor-mentee relationship is a lot more like Rocky

You have to prove to your potential mentor you have what it takes to go the distance before they will take you on as a mentee.

Remember that your mentor is making an investment of time, energy and often not a small amount of emotional vulnerability.

It’s up to you to provide the sweat equity that will bring them a handsome ROI.