In college, I accidentally did mentorship super well. What I mean is that I got mentored in a method and manner that catapulted me forward even though I didn’t know what I was doing.
I was an unconscious competent.
Now that I’ve moved into conscious competent, I can help college students reverse engineer my success. I am going to approach it from the angle of “mistakes to avoid as a college student getting mentored.”
1. A common mistake is thinking that mentorship has any structure.
Mentorship is not like a college class.
This is an example of the wild west of education in the real world. For example, Google “get a VC you don’t know to mentor you,” and you’ll see that mentorship happens after your potential mentor gives you a crappy lead. Or a crappy introduction.
It’s a test you need to pass, which leads to my next point.
2. Early stages of mentorship aren’t an IQ test, they’re an EQ test.
The mistake college students make is thinking that this LEGEND of a MENTOR might actually be an idiot or a jerk or really a hard case.
Your potential mentor is acting dumb just to DDSS: “dumb it down sandbag for success.” Pass the EQ (emotional quotient) test and handle the hardship test.
3. Don’t get killed with kindness.
The opposite end of the mentorship spectrum is the “kill you with kindness and humility” signature maneuver.
This is what I mean. Let’s say a mentor (err potential mentor) is overly kind. It is in a college student’s nature to over extrapolate, extrapolate, and take for granted something seemingly easy. In mentorship in the real world, there’s zero correlation between price and value of advice.
Let me repeat that.
In the real world, there is no correlation between price you “pay” for mentorship and the quality of the mentorship.
This I say to you, the undergrad currently paying $50,000 a year for something a library card, Internet access, and the ability to walk to the campus bookstore to look up required textbooks for Stanford Engineering 145, could get you. And then buying used textbooks online for the edition that was before the current edition. (Plot spoiler: We professors changed very little from the 5th edition to the 9th edition )
4. College students forget to MMPPI.
MMPPI is “mentor mentions per press interview.”
Selling a current or existing mentor gets the attention of future mentors. Nothing improves your quality of mentors than you, the college student, promoting an existing mentor.
For example, in college, I read the book, Ultimate Credit Handbook. I called Gerri Detweiler, the author, a mentor. I credited her and her book when people wanted to call me college entrepreneur of the year. The more I promoted Gerri Detweiler, the faster other potential mentors would call me back.
Question: Hey, Larry Chiang, I can’t just go around calling someone my mentor, can I?!
Answer: This the most common college student mentorship mistake.
5. They are your mentor if you say they are your mentor.
College students think there is some emperor anointment ceremony between mentees and mentors. Nothing can be further from how it happens in the real world.
They are your mentor if you say they are your mentor.
6. Get mentored by them before they mentor you.
Join their parade of mentorship ideas before you officially or unofficially get mentored by them.
Do this by reading what they have written. Do this get-mentored-before-you-get-mentored by getting mentored by one of their mentees.
This leads to my last and largest mistake that college students make….
7. Never, ever, never ask to slap a mentor label on your mentorship.
Wanna scream that you’re stuck in academia and have zero street smarts?! Make the cliche mistake of pre-maturely DTR-ing. DTR is “define the relationship.”
No pre-mature DTRs.
For example, you heard a speaker speak at MIT Entrepreneur Week. The speaker DDSSed and slapped up his cell, e-mail, and Facebook account URL on the whiteboard. You make the mistake of e-mailing a week later and say in the first line, “Wanna be my mentor?”
This is how you, the college student, can close for a mentor using e-mail follow-up.
This is the THIRD e-mail you send. The first two were read and forgotten.
follow-up from MIT eWeek / Larry Chiang / 650-283-8008
hi Mr Bob,
I heard you give the keynote at vc65 there in Kresge. I was there covering Venture Capital 65 for my MIT student blog. Yes, I’m a CS/EE major like you.
I know you told us not to call you Professor Bob Metcalfe. So I’ll call you Mr Bob. I mean you’re a living legend. You went to MIT too.
Mr Bob, I have a question about an article you were quoted in…
I read ______.
Specifically, I was confused about_____.
Do you advocate option A or option B!?!?
Sometime during the next 30 days, I’d highly value a 3-10 minutes on the phone. Here are a few windows of time that work for me (btw, I hunted the Internet for office hours and didn’t see any. Btw, I’m using this email technique because Mr Larry Chiang is my mentor. I met him at SxSW and heard him speak).
Here are five windows that work:
March 27, 8-11:11am
March 27, 6-7pm
March 29, 8-11:11am
March 31, 8-11:11am
March 31, 6-7pm
And that’s the street-smart method of closing for a mentor via e-mail.
I hope that these mentorship ideas help you get an awesome mentor. It was nice meeting you via this blog post.
If you’re an engineer and want to study mentorship under the class ENGR 145 at Stanford, click here.
“Mentor Flowchart” photo from Shutterstock.