How to Accommodate Mentoring Requests When You’re Really Busy

By Adrian Granzella Larssen for The Muse – July 2, 2014

Like many of you, I’m busy. I rarely take a day completely off, weekends included. Occasionally, my mom has to text me, “Seriously, are you alive?” because multi-day periods will go by when I can’t return her calls. And I think long and hard before taking meetings, signing up for events, or adding anything else to my already jam-packed schedule.

So, to the executives who are tired of getting requests from younger contacts looking for mentorship and advice — and now charging for their time — I get it.

Except for that, well, I don’t. Because, busy as I may be, there’s no way I’d be in my current professional situation if it weren’t for lots of people over the years who were willing to meet with me and give me advice. Given all of the job leads, professional wisdom, and opportunities that have come my way from folks, sometimes random, who’ve taken a half hour here or there to chat with me, the least I can do is to pay it forward to others who could use my expertise.
That said, I think there’s a way to do it without completely overwhelming your schedule. It’s all about figuring out exactly how much time you’re willing to share, setting boundaries around what you will and won’t do, and (most importantly) sticking to them. Here are a few ideas I’ve seen work well to share your professional wisdom with budding talent without giving away all your time — or having to charge for it.

Set a Quota

First, think about how many requests you get and how many you can realistically fit in your schedule. This varies for everyone — maybe it’s one half-hour session each month, maybe it’s no more than one 15-minute meeting per week. Whatever it is, make it your personal policy, and stick to it. If someone reaches out and you’re already booked? Put them on the schedule for next month.

Your Script

Thanks so much for reaching out — I love meeting with people and sharing my advice for breaking into finance. Unfortunately, my schedule limits me to only doing one of these meetings per week, and I’m all booked for July. Can you send me some 15-minute slots on Tuesday afternoons that might work for you in August?

Don’t Do Coffee

Probably the most common ask in the networking world these days is, “Can I buy you a cup of coffee to pick your brain?” Most people think they’re being nice by offering to buy your $4 latte — but don’t realize that a “quick coffee meeting” can take an hour or more out of your day.

So don’t do them. Instead, take 15-minute phone calls during parts of the day when you’re not particularly slammed or productive (like Friday afternoons or the 3 PM slump). My boss likes to do them on her walk to work in the morning — multitasking at its finest. And OK, if you’re feeling nice and really want to do coffee, do it at your usual morning Starbucks on your way to work so that it doesn’t interrupt your routine.

Your Script

Hi there, thanks for your offer for coffee. Unfortunately, my schedule doesn’t allow any coffee meetings in the coming weeks, but I’d be happy to spend 10 to 15 minutes on the phone with you. Would Friday afternoon at 4:30 PM work for you?

Find Ways to Combine People

If you find that you really get a lot of questions — The Muse’s founders Alex and Kathryn, for example, get dozens a week from aspiring or just-starting entrepreneurs — consider hosting an in-person Q&A session that you can invite everyone to. Sounds like a lot of work, but really, a one-hour session every quarter is a lot less work and time than taking half hours here and there.

Your Script

Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to answer your questions. I actually have a brown bag session every other month at my office, where I answer lots of questions about starting a business — I’d love to have you join next month.

Put Your FAQs in Writing

One of my co-workers, a former consultant, often gets asked what it was like to work at her firm and her tips for breaking in. Her solution? She put her experience and her best tips in writing, saved it as a canned response in Gmail, and sends it off anytime someone asks her for advice.

Alternatively, you could turn your most commonly asked questions into an article, a blog post, or an FAQs section on your personal website, and direct people there. Again, the initial investment is heavy, but it’ll save you lots of time down the road. (And hey, people will be thrilled that they don’t have to take notes while you’re chatting over coffee.)

Your Script

Thanks for reaching out. As you can imagine, I get many requests for advice on breaking into the consulting world, so I’ve compiled all of my best tips into a blog post (see the link below). If there’s more information you’d like after reading this, feel free to send over two or three questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in a timely matter. Best of luck on your job search!

Again, I believe that giving your time and sharing your expertise when you can is the best way to thank all those people who helped you out in the early days. An added bonus? Recent research shows that helping others is the best way to feel like you’ve got more time in the day.

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