If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Make it your mission to find a mentor. But what the career experts don't tell you is that there's a strong chance that at some point in your career the person to whom you report will be different than the person you turn to for professional guidance and support. Oh, there's more: You'll probably have to take the first step before the relationship evolves into something substantial. So what do you when you want to create space for a connection with someone other than your boss?
Click through for a four-step primer filled with conversation-starters, the right questions to ask, plus an eye towards the future when the partnership pays major dividends.
1) Make it about them
People love to talk about what they do, so use that to your advantage. A savvy way to kick-start a new professional relationship is to give the prospective mentor a compliment, then follow up with a question. For example, "I loved how you incorporated those statistics from that Washington Post poll on paid leave into your presentation! Do you think us implementing the policy will have a huge affect on company culture and productivity?" She'll be impressed by your attention to detail and be more inclined to want to know more about you. The trick though is to find superstars within your organization with the position and experiences that you are genuinely curious about — few things are worse than self-indulgence cloaked as curiosity.
2) Leverage your boss's connections
Use check-ins and performance reviews with your boss as a way to organically extend your network. Alert her to your evolving interests and the areas of opportunity you're looking to strengthen and ask if she has any recommendations that you reach out to. Most of the time, your boss will make the connection for you, which works in your favor because it shows the soon-to-be mentor that you come "pre-approved." But if she doesn't offer and you already have someone in mind that your boss has a working relationship with, mention that you'd love to schedule lunch or coffee with that person to broaden your insight. Ask if she would be willing to coordinate an introduction. Still nothing? Then make it happen on your own terms. Let your boss know how seriously you take your professional development and give her a heads-up that you understand and respect her hesitance, but you're more than willing to do the work yourself. Refer to the tip above to get the ball rolling.
3) Prepare for bigger and better
As you nurture this new relationship, share how you've diversified your skill set and gaining more experience. Are you learning a new language? Studying for a new certification? Leading a task force on an initiative for your department? Then watch your new mentor turn into your biggest cheerleader to see that your ambition doesn't go unrewarded. So if when you're assigned a special project or your opinion on a new company initiative is requested, don't blow it. Build connections with the reality that they will most likely lead to something larger than your current role has room for.
4) Show your true colors
Don't hide the quirks that make you stand out, because those characteristics are often like magnets that draw good people towards you. People respond to authenticity so embrace what makes you different. After all, when you team uniqueness, a second-to-none work ethic and the support of a few influential figures, even the sky can't limit your greatness.