Illana Raia is the founder and CEO of Être, a mentorship platform for girls and young women to help empower and embolden them to reach new heights. She’s also the author of The Epic Mentor Guide, where she interviewed 180 women who are certified bosses in their industry. While some of the names are familiar like Tyra Banks and Hoda Kotb, there are also women from big brands such as Nike, Disney, and Spotify– and further women such as the astronaut Katie Coleman and 3M’s “100 patent woman” Audrey Sherman.
Raia shares with listeners some of the insights she’s gathered when it comes to finding a mentor.
After spending time interviewing many women in senior positions, Raia came up with 6 key takeaways she feels will help girls in their quest to find a mentor in their desired field. By implementing these tips, it makes it more likely you’ll get the information you’re looking for and take the steps to reach your goals.
Let’s be honest here– being coy and bashful will only get you so far. Understand exactly what it is you’re looking for and ask with intention. You can’t be vague and ask like, “Hey, can I pick your brain sometime?” or “Whenever you have some free time, I’d love to chat.” These people are experts and seniors in their company and industry– that means they’re busy and their time is valuable.
Here’s what Raia had to say:
“[A]sk with intention, recognize what you don’t know– What you need to find out and then be specific, be purposeful. And I think that’s good advice. Whether you are meeting someone for the first time or in your hundredth meeting with someone. Specificity will get you the answer that you’re looking [for].
Now, here’s some practical advice you can use when seeking out your mentor. Be specific with your time request– ask what time and date they might be available to answer a question or two.
Also, you need to think about what type of relationship works best for them and yourself. Will it be strictly online through email? What about video calls through Zoom? Will it be in person? How long do you want the mentorship to last? Is it a few weeks, months, or years?
By being specific, it makes it easier for the person to say yes if it’s something they’re up for.
The second step is being fearless. You can’t be afraid to ask for what you want. And you can’t be afraid of hearing “no.” Many women find it difficult to express themselves in certain situations, such as raising their hand or speaking up during a board meeting. Once you’ve crossed that initial threshold, you’ll find it easier to take hold of the power, voice, and ownership you have– and let your courage be the driving force behind your decision.
As Raia puts it:
“We do have trouble being fearless, but it’s a muscle like any other. And when it’s cultivated, you will start using it all the time.”
When looking for a mentor, here’s a trick you can use to help overcome that fear. Do some research on the person you’re asking. For instance, what was the last article they wrote or an interview they recently did? Start with that and it will show interest and lead right into her next piece of advice which is…
Amat Victoria Curam or “victory loves preparation” is a quote from the Roman poet, Gaius Victorius Catullus. An example from Raia’s book comes from the famed supermodel, Tyra Banks.
During the early days of her career, she did all she could to be prepared for meetings and fashion shows by learning the ins and outs of the designer she was working with. She’d watch previous shows they had put on. She learned everything exactly what they wanted and how she could bring their vision to life.
These steps took away a lot of fear for her, and she was confident that she belonged in the room with everyone else– and everyone was clear on her professionalism.
Raia said it more succinctly with:
“[F]rom my experience being in the corporate world, preparation is key. And if you’re going to have the spotlight, you better be prepared in every way to use it. And it lets you be natural and have a good time. I think once you’ve got facts in your back pocket and data at your fingertips, you’ll have a ball wherever you are.”
You also need to be aware of the circle of people you have around you. A few quotes from The Epic Mentor Guide will help you with this one. The first quote comes from Hoda Kotb and the second comes from SNL writer, Sudi Green.
Kotb said, “Take stock of the five people around you [and] surround yourself with positive people.” Whereas, Green had this to share, “Surround yourself with people who inspire you. People who are funny and get creative with them.”
To add to this sentiment, Amanda Hinley, who works on the stock exchange, said that you need to surround yourself with people who are supportive and brave. And Raia adds that it’s never too young to start critically looking at those friends and associates in your inner circle.
Curiosity can help you in a lot of aspects of life, both professionally and personally. In terms of mentors, it means that if you’re already traveling down one career path, then it’s okay to switch and try something new. It’s having the courage to say, “What if this isn’t what I’m meant to do forever?” and allowing yourself to make a change or pivot whether you’re young or well into your career.
Our final takeaway is something that will take you far in every facet– always be respectful. Respect the person’s expertise and time. That also means being humble and not feeling entitled to anything. For example, don’t ask someone for a two hour meeting at the start. Simply send an email or social media message with your question (and be specific) and ease your way into that relationship.
By using these 6 tips and reading Illana Raia’s work, The Epic Mentor Guide, will help you get a clearer view and more insight of what it takes to be a boss woman. Be sure to check out our interview for the full spill for more information and enjoy our deep talk on the subject.
If you are looking for mentorship and a professional circle, The Women’s Leadership Lab is a space to network, leverage others’ experience and receive the insights you need to reach your goals. Learn more here.