Forbes posted several good tips on finding and using mentors. I thought I would add my experience from the information security perspective. You can read the original article here: How To Find And Use A Mentor.
“1. Examine yourself. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of goals and objectives. How will you use a mentor? To find an internship? To help you hone your presentation skills? To advise you on your career path?”
Information security is a broad field with several specialities. Often, the first step of mentoring someone is for us to decide what they even want to learn. Doing the digging and researching what areas are of interest will save time for more hands-on mentorship.
“2. Decide what you want in a mentor. What are the qualities you seek in a mentor? Try to envision the ideal person. Is it Oprah? If so, why? Figure out what characteristics you’re looking for, perhaps a particular wealth of knowledge or set of skills.”
Information security is a wide community with several specialists. Finding the right person to provide guidance goes along way. Look for areas where they have researched, worked, or exceled. Match their strengths to your needs.
“3. Cast a wide net. Network. Use social media like LinkedIn. Parents and their pals can prove especially useful. Don’t forget professional associations and your schools’ career offices.”
For our field, make use of Twitter and IRC. Find the person, do your homework (osint style), and get an introduction.
“4. Be specific when you reach out. Ask for something specific, like a 20-minute meeting over coffee to learn about the person’s career path, or a short desk-side meeting to ask advice about internships. Use these meetings to build rapport before you make requests for more time.”
“5. Go after more than one mentor. One person may help you land an internship in your desired field; another may help you see the big picture of your unfolding career.”
Rinse and repeat the above steps, filling in the gaps in your knowledge and network.
“6. Offer something in return. Are you an expert at social networking? Offer your services and ideas generously and frequently.”
With information security, it is less about sharing social networking tips and more about building on a body of research. Most of the mentors you will reach out to have an active project list, with little time to explore. By offering to do the work, you help them by progressing the idea while you help yourself by learning.
“7. Be an active protégé. Show enthusiasm for your mentor’s help. Express gratitude.”
Don’t over do this one. I have had mentees go too far in the other direction, to the point of fawning. The ideal state is to show you are active and engaged, without overwhelming your mentor’s inbox.
“8. Follow up. Even after you’ve landed that internship or job, don’t let your communication with your mentor lapse. Keep her apprised of your progress.”
It has been said that 80% of success is simply showing up. I believe this. The number one mistake I see from newcomers to the field and from people seeking mentors is that they simply do not show up. Do not have one great conversation and then let the idea go cold. Do not have a great couple weeks and then disappear. Most people do. But you are different. If you want to make it in this field, you have to show up, be steady, and see projects thru to the end.