Along with some of my peers, this quarter I've been participating in a non-profit mentorship program. The basic idea of the program was: a group of six students get paired with a mentor, someone working in the non-profit sector, to meet with on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to learn about working for a non-profit.
My group's weekly discussions have steered away from specifically working in the non-profit sector to work life in general, graduate school, and work-life balance. My group's mentor, in addition to sharing with us parts of her life story, brought in a couple of her colleagues to share with us their journey. One of these colleagues shared a few beneficial tips on networking and finding mentors.
As an introvert, I admit this sounds intimidating to me, but it is a must. You have to reach out to mentors. They aren't going to reach out to you. If going to a job fair and introducing yourself in person is intimidating, shoot them an email. Some people will respond. Others won't, and that's okay. Move on and try asking someone else. LinkedIn is great for searching for groups and connecting to people in those groups. Ask questions.
Ask for AIR: advice, information, referral.
My mentor's colleague coined this acronym for my group members and me to remember. It's straightforward. If the person is unable to provide the advice or information you're hoping to gain, ask them if they can refer you to someone who can.
Know exactly what you want to learn or discuss and be honest about it. Have questions prepared. If you're particularly interested in a person's job, ask them about what they do: what does a typical workday look like for them? Ask them how they got to where they are now: what jobs, internships, activities, or volunteer opportunities did they have in the past that propelled them to where they are today? Don't be afraid to say, "I want to do what you do. How can I get there?"
Offer something in return.
Thank the person for their time and offer them help in return. Networking is like an exchange: both parties have something to learn about and something else to offer. If you view yourself as inferior to the other person and think you have nothing to offer, you're selling yourself short.
Reaching out, networking, and finding potential mentors are daunting tasks. I found these tips to be beneficial and help ease the anxiety I feel regarding them. I hope you find them helpful as well. If you don't, that is completely okay. Not everyone will find the same advice beneficial, and you always have the option to search for tips somewhere else.