This is a guest post from Raghav Haran.
A few years after college, something interesting starts to happen.
Some people start to move up the ladder a lot faster than others. They start getting promoted to higher levels and a lot of responsibility, even though they’re young. Some get VIP clients. Others land incredible job offers.
It seems like amazing opportunities just gravitate toward them.
It’s almost like they “skip the line” without having to pay their dues, while most people are still trying to figure everything out.
It’s tempting to write these people off as being lucky.
But in reality, it’s not because they lived in the right place, went to the right school, or anything like that. There’s just one major thing they all did behind the scenes.
They found a great mentor.
For example – Ryan Holiday was mentored by Tucker Max and Robert Greene, and he ended up becoming the Director of Marketing at American Apparel before he even graduated from college.
Tim Ferriss was mentored by Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield, who helped him out in writing the ridiculously successful Four Hour Work Week.
The list goes on and on.
Great mentors can help you grow a lot faster, and nudge you away from mistakes that you might not even know you were about to make.
And the truth is, world class mentors really are not that hard to get. They’re all within your reach, no matter where you live or what you do. You just have to reach out to them in the right way.
It’s all predicated on how much value you can provide before you try to get something from them.
But it’s easy to spew platitudes like “just add value.”
I’ll show you how to get someone you admire as a mentor, step by step — even if you feel like you have nothing to offer. Right down to the email scripts.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY SOMEONE WHO YOU WANT TO LEARN FROM.
The best mentor isn’t always a famous celebrity — it’s someone who’s just a level or two above you.
If you’re at an entry level role, maybe it’s someone who’s a manager. If you have 4 years of experience, maybe it’s someone who has 8. They’re the ones who can guide you away from mistakes that might cost you years of wasted time and effort.
And it’s never been easier to find these people.
About.me’s Discover pages are a great way to find people who are doing amazing things in practically every field.
You can also use LinkedIn’s advanced filters to find someone with a specific job title. Use Twitter to get in touch someone previously “unreachable.” Or find people on Quora who are writing interesting answers.
Once you identify a few people you want to reach out to , move on to step 2.
STEP 2: OFFER REAL VALUE.
99% of the messages successful people get every day are asking them for something. People asking questions, people asking to “pick their brain”, people asking for advice — you name it.
And the truth is, they would love to help. Winners love helping other winners.
But most people come off as losers in the first email they send, often times without even realizing it.
Here’s simple way to reach out to someone that’s almost guaranteed to be well received:
1. Do research on them
Before you can add value, you need to figure out what they actually need.
I like to do this is by doing in depth research. I might read their blog, watch any interviews they did on YouTube, listen to any podcasts they were on, read the articles they’re sharing, and check out the stuff they post on social media.
I now have a pretty good idea of what’s on their mind.
If they don’t have a big public persona, do similar research on their company.
Eventually, they’d say something like “I wish I had X”, “I’m working on Y right now and it’s getting pretty difficult”, “I’m not too happy with the way we’re handling Z”, etc.
2. Offer something to them
Most people are afraid that they have nothing to offer when reaching out to someone more successful than them.
Young people say things like “I’m not experienced enough to be valuable,” while older people say “I’m not young so people don’t want to help me.”
People always think that others have an unfair advantage, while completely ignoring the advantages that are unique to themselves.
Once you do your research on the person you’re trying to reach out to, or the company they work at, you’re in a great position to be add value.
One simple way you could do this is by offering gratitude.
If you find something they wrote that was particularly valuable to you, take action on it. One of the best phrases to hear is “I took your advice.”
Everyone loves to dish out advice, but very few people actually are willing to take action on it. You’ll instantly come off as a top performer if you’re one of the few that do.
This is how I reached out to bestelling author Ryan Holiday (through the email address on his mailing list).
Ryan reads a ton of books, and keeps a notecard system to remember everything he reads. I also read a lot and have trouble remembering everything, so I took his advice, and told him about it, and sent him a picture of my notecards.
You could also offer an idea or suggestion based on something they’re having challenges with.
For example, I heard Jordan Harbinger talk about how important iTunes reviews were to him on several of his podcasts, so I reached out with an idea for how he could get more reviews.
Another way to be valuable is just by offering a resource (i.e. an article) that the other person might be interested in – like I did for about.me’s founder, Tony Conrad.
Notice how these messages are not sleazy or desperate. They’re genuinely helpful.
The amount of value you can add to someone more successful than you is not always predicated on your experience.
STEP 3: MAKE A SMALL ASK.
Once you’re on their radar and have given some value up front, it’s okay to make a small ask.
Maybe you want to ask a question or get their advice on something. Depending on who you’re talking to, one email with a single piece of advice might make a huge difference over the course of your career.
But you do need to make sure that you’re asking for advice in the right way.
We’ve all been taught that there are no stupid questions – which is probably true. But there are ways of phrasing a question that can make it sound stupid.
Let’s say you’re trying to get advice about deciding between A and B.
A good question might go something like this:
“I’m trying to decide whether I should do A or B. Based on the research I did talking to specific people / reading certain articles, I think the best plan of action is to do [X].
If my end goal is to do XYZ, do you think I’m on the right track?”
Before asking for advice, always mention the work you’ve already put in to find the answer for yourself. People like helping people who help themselves first.
The more time you require from them, the less they’re going to want to talk to you. Keeping an email it super specific is a good way to go.
STEP 4: FOLLOW UP.
If someone is generous enough to give you advice or feedback, always follow up and tell them how it impacted you. Tell them about the results you got.
At this point, you would have come off as a smart, high achieving performer who is on an upward trajectory.
You would have made it clear that the time they spend helping you is actually worth it because you are going to put it to good use.
You’ve got yourself a mentor.
After you build up a good initial first impression, you’re off to the races.
Maybe you want to pitch the potential mentor to try and work with them. Maybe you want to keep asking for advice. Maybe you want to get introductions to people in their network.
All you need to do is keep that same give-and-take process going.
That’s how you get ahead of everyone else.
Raghav Haran is a marketer and entrepreneur. After working with New York Times bestselling authors, well known entrepreneurs, and top tier companies, he founded Land Any Job You Want to help other ambitious people land more job offers.