Guest Post: How To Get An Industry Influencer to Mentor You
This guest post was written by Andrianes Pinantoan. Andrianes is currently studying a TAFE course to be a freelance writer. When not working, he can be found with a camera in hand. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.
In every industry, there are a few people whose opinions count more than others. Being able to work for them – even if it’s just an internship – will no doubt put your career on a fast track. You’ll have the opportunity to pick their brains and to see what a day in their life is like. I think you can learn more in a week of real action with these people than from 4 years of college.
But these are also some of the busiest people in the world. So most students automatically assume it’s not possible to get connected with them, or that if these people are going to take on a mentee, it would be someone from Harvard – with an average GPA of 4, who volunteers with UN, runs his own venture and is a concert pianist. And if you’re not some kind of genius, the only way to get a mentorship is if you have some kind of underground connection.
As someone who comes from a modest background and has had the chance to learn from a few industry influencers, trust me when I say that those are the wrong assumptions to make. In fact, the mindset of these influencers is quite the opposite, and in this article I will not only tell how they think, but also how to make use of that understanding to land a gig.
1. It’s Never About You
Imagine you open up your inbox and there are 1403 unread messages – all marked as important. What would you do? That’s the life of an influencer. At best, they are going to give each email they get – those already filtered by an assistant – a two second glance. How do you write for a two second glance?
Answer: self-interest. You see, over the last two years, I did quite a bit of hiring myself. Here are a few examples of the starting sentence of 99% of cover letters I get:
- “I am a recent Stanford graduate”
- “I am an experienced business analyst”
- “I have 5 years’ experience”
- “I am a professional, experienced writer”
It’s what New York Times bestselling author, Ramit Sethi, likes to call the “I, I, I” syndrome. Influencers don’t care about who you are and what you do. What they want to know is how you can help them. When I asked a few of my friends why they started their cover letters with a self-serving sentence, most said that they want to establish their credibility. Successful interns, however, flipped the formula: hook them in first then build your credibility. Here’s the opening paragraph I used that got me a call back from an influencer in the financial industry a couple of years ago:
First sentence: “Dear XYZ, you must be extremely busy with project ABC right now so I’ll keep this short.” This shows you got to know them before you approach and that you have their convenience on your mind when you write the email.
Second sentence: “I have been following your work since I saw you spoke at conference ASX.” Whenever possible, mention something you have in common. If you someone refers you to the influencer, definitely name-drop in the first or second sentence. More on this on the second part of this article.
Third sentence: “I just want to drop a quick email to tell you that I worked on a similar project with *COMPETING FIRM* and am available to help you out with project ABC as an intern if you like.” This is the hook. Why should they reply to you?
That’s it. Remember to keep your emails short if you want it to get read.
2. A Context
Context makes the communication “natural”. If there’s one question to keep in mind when thinking about context, it’s “What do the two of you have in common?”
Here are two ideas to create context:
- Attend a conference if you know the influencer will be there. Not only is a face-to-face meeting much better than an email or a phone call, you’ll also be able to talk about that common experience.
- Is he a friend of your friend? Go to Linkedin and check it out. And if she is not, then make her a friend of a friend by checking out her secondary connections – and befriending those people. For example, making friends with the secretary of a CEO is much easier than going straight to the CEO – and secretaries have a large influence on who the CEO meets during the day.
3. A Mission
Most influencers are involved in some kind of non-profit organization. Do you share the same mission? If you do, here are two ideas to get to know your influencer:
- Throw a small campus event and leverage your university’s authority to get the influencer to come to speak to your group. This one requires a bit of effort but it works like a charm.
- Write an article about the issue your influencer is passionate about for your campus newspaper and ask the influencer for an interview. What is he doing for the cause? What does he think we should do? Most people are more than happy to get recognition for the charitable work they do.
Before I End
Before I end, let me just drop you a note: Start low and work your way up. If this is your first time trying to connect with an influencer, don’t go reaching out to Seth Godin. Reverse engineer his connections and start with the one you will most likely be able to form a relationship with.
And if this sounds like too much work, think of it this way: It’s better than struggling your way up the corporate ladder in the years to come. Besides, to land rare opportunities, you need to do what others don’t!