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I can’t believe it’s been over three years since I left my career as a teacher and college administrator and began my career as an instructional designer. On some level, it feels like the time has been long and slow. The bow ties, leather-patched sportcoats, and endless faculty meetings and turf wars are thankfully long gone. The need to adhere to the rigors and rituals of the academic calendar has vanished. I do not miss these relics of a world becoming more atrophied by entrenchment. I am thankful for so many benefits my new corporate life has entitled me to as I navigate these new spheres.

Given the number of teachers that continue to look for ways to transition out of education and into the world of instructional design, I am constantly impressed and not surprisingly horrified at some of the ways I see individuals ask for help. Recently, I came across the first email I sent to several thought leaders and mentors in the instructional design world. I was struck by the clarity and the directness of what I was looking for at that time in my career transition. In the spirit of supporting those seeking to live the good life and looking for a way into a new career path, here are my thoughts about how to contact your next mentor. These tips, tricks, dos, and don’ts are not in any order; they are just meant to guide you as you journey through and into your following career path.

Write a professional email

I cannot stress enough the importance of writing a well crafted email that is tailored specifically to the mentor you wish to engage. Be complimentary by telling them something you recently read or viewed that impressed you. Also, be clear about what you wish to get out of the mentoring experience. The important thing here is an email is a direct communication. Please, do not send them a direct message through social media. That kind of communication will only get you a minimal response, if that.

Focus on the mentor's talents and expertise

It's important that you focus on what this particular mentor brings to the table, not what others have or provide. Focus on their talents and approach to instructional design. Do not ask them to comment about other thought leaders in the field. There are a lot of bootcamps, workshops, and paid mentorships out there. Some of these individuals know what they are talking about, while others not so much. Refrain from asking them to comment on other's workshops and bootcamps. It's like going into the Apple store and asking the clerk to comment about Microsoft products. Along these same lines, do not ask them if their workshops or bootcamps are worth the money or time. Would you ask the chef of a 5-star restaurant if her cooking is really worth the money. Think about it. What do you think she's going to say? It's rude and unproductive.

Be patient and give the mentor time to respond

In my experience, the really strong mentors and through leaders in instructional design are very busy people. Many of them not only continue to operate their successful freelance businesses, but also run bootcamps, moderate community forums, and mentor lots of people just like you. So give them time to respond back. Honestly, most of them won't reply back and that's okay. When I did this, I sent out ten emails and only three returned my email and only one agreed to meet with me. That amazing person was Tim Slade, and I will be forever grateful for his mentorship, friendship, and continuous support.

Briefly tell your story

It's important to let your future mentor know something about you, but keep it brief. Give them some context to help them get to know you better but connect your story to what you want to get out of your time with a mentor.

Do the work

It's important that you communicate that you are willing to do the work and put in the time necessary to make the most out of your mentor's time and energy. There is nothing more frustrating than mentoring someone who doesn't put in the time and energy to make the most of this relationship. Communicate to them that you're committed to making the most out of your time with this valuable person.

Write an attention-grabbing and compelling subject line.

Again, the kind of mentor you want to work with is busy and highly sought after. So, if you want them to read your email, you've got to appeal to their interests and desires. The subject line I used was: "Inspired by your website/ article on (insert title)." You want to get noticed and stand out from all the other people out there vying for the same relationship and opportunity.

Keep the mentoring invitation about the relationship you wish to develop

One of the pitfalls I see many individuals make is that they use this opportunity to ask for resources. Don't ask for stuff! If you are lucky to secure a mentorship with a well respected instructional designer leader, the resources will flow to you from the relationship. My mentor is a very giving person who has written books, spoken at major conferences, and gives tirelessly to our ID community. His book was one of the first things I bought when I started my journey. Through our time together, he gave me so many resources that I didn't have to ask for. Things will come as a result of your time and energy together. So don't ask for free stuff. It's rude.

Be kind and gracious

Words of kindness go a long way. Thank your reader for their time and energy. Let them know how much you appreciate the time they've taken to go through this email. Open the door to the kind of mutually beneficial relationship you'd like to develop with this person. If they see that you are a kind and gracious person, the more likely they are to open up to you and support you.

Use social media to get engaged and participate in the community

Most of the top though leaders in instructional design are on LinkedIn. They post articles, comment on various posts, and share tips, tricks, and resources. You are more likely to get their attention and to connect with you if they see you becoming engaged in the community in a positive and meaningful way. So get out there and post, comment, and like their work within the community. It will demonstrate to them that you are serious about making the most out of your career pivot.
a vertical stack of wooden blocks with the words your career starts here written on each block.

I hope this list helps you to better reach out to these incredible people who are making a strong difference in our community. It’s vital that you put your best self out there. Ultimately, what you want to get out of this is a mentorship that, over time, moves you from apprentice to colleague.

So what are your thoughts? What advice would you add to this list? Let’s grow our collective wisdom and support those making the shift into instructional design.

*Special thanks to several individuals who shared with me their stories and experiences that contributed to this article.

Jim McKinley Brown

I'm a learning experience designer (LXD) and eLearning consultant with over 30 years of experience creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences for people of all ages.

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