How to Set Up an Effective Mentorship

Perhaps the most frequent advice we hear when embarking upon a new path, whether to research a new idea or create a startup, is “Find a mentor.” And it’s great advice, but we’re not often taught how to go about the process.

In the work we do at IMPERIA, we encourage our cohort members to think big and dream about the people they want to work with, because you have to start somewhere.

If the names are famous, there is often a book the person has written, or articles and interviews where you can learn from them. Mentorship doesn’t necessarily mean you know and meet with the person.

For the more attainable kind of mentor who is practicing the work you’re doing, or is an expert in the industry you’re exploring, you’d be surprised how often you’ll get a reply to a well-prepared email. Even if the person is unable to take you on as a mentee, they may refer you to someone, so you want to make everything easy for them to forward.

Some tips for your initial e-mail:

  • Don’t be oversolicitous. Tell them you admire their work, and are inquiring if they’re currently open to mentees.
  • Keep your own intro brief. State what your goal is with a mentor, and share some very brief highlights about yourself in bullets (I have a startup around x, or just finished a degree about y). 
  • Use highlights instead of attachments. You can attach your resume/CV/pitch deck, but it may not get read. It’s better to keep your highlights in a couple of bullets and a link to your project, and you can always send the documents later (also, your first note is less likely to end up in a spam folder if it has no attachment).
  • Make it easy for them to say yes. And by that we mean give them a clear call to action, and do all the administrative work. If they are interested and open to a call with you, give them 2 times to choose from, in their time zone (take the time to find out if the info is available), and you can say something like: “Might you be available Tuesday between 12-2PM EST or Friday 9-11AM PST? If those don’t work, please let me know what’s most convenient for you. If you reply with a good contact number and email, I’m happy to set up a calendar invitation with a Zoom audio link.” Then it takes one reply from them, and you’re good to go.
    • For the love, do not just include your Calendly link — it is not a good look. If you do want to use Calendly, you have to frame it: “If it’s easier for you, I also have set up a Calendly, and you are welcome to choose a time that way.” 

Now you’re off to a great start!

Then comes the critical piece. Sadly, we’re not really taught what to do with the connection once we actually find a mentor, so let’s take a look at some best practices. These are the methods we use with our IMPERIA cohorts, and they provide a structured way to create a relationship that is helpful to both you and your mentor. Most importantly, they set up accountability in a way that means you’ll both contribute to and grow from the relationship.


  • Understand what mentoring is/is not. Mentoring does not mean someone giving you answers or telling you what to do. It is meant to be a relationship that provides guiding questions and supports a mentee through her journey. Do not be afraid to ask questions and share what you are struggling with, as your mentor is part of your team!
  • Set up the parameters of the relationship ahead of time. You’ll want to avoid creating awkward situations with your mentor (see “Don’t solicit” below), so be sure you actually create the mentorship agreement together and agree on the terms. It can be a simple bullet-pointed list, but this creates a formality and accountability for what is about to happen.
  • Be prepared and considerate. Show up for your calls prepared and on time. Anything less is disrespectful. We do understand things happen on both sides to disrupt scheduling, and in the case of an emergency it’s sometimes necessary to reschedule. The most important thing is that you communicate the moment you know there is a delay or an issue with your scheduled time. (You can set up this agreement for your mentor to do as well.)
  • Don’t solicit. Be very careful about boundaries here. Unless there is an explicit conversation about funding or donations, it creates a very awkward situation for you to solicit either of these, and will likely harm your relationship.
  • Clarify the time commitment. Be clear in your time commitment to this relationship. Does it work to talk monthly? Weekly? What kind of bandwidth do each of you have?

If you are on the hunt for a mentor, there are a couple of global programs that could also be helpful in your search:

Global Thinkers Forum
GTF is committed to promoting values-based thinking and accountability in leadership, all in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Global Changemakers (15-22 years of age)
As a participant in the programme, you will be paired with a mentor who is an experienced changemaker and who will guide you through GC’s carefully designed five-part mentorship journey.

Good luck!


Global Round-Up is our Friday collection of interesting tidbits and tools from around the globe, curated to support you in scaling your idea.

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