The first meeting with your mentor

The first cut is the deepest.

I think it was a song lyric—whatever it was, the take away was that you should be prepared to fuck the first time up completely. It really is OK.

If you're looking for a mentor, read the post on How to Find a Mentor. In this post, I'm going to provide you with a framework to get ready and run your first meeting with your mentor like a champion.

By now you've probably worked your way through your list of mentors and managed to score a meeting. Well done, the fun begins.

By now you've probably worked your way through your list of mentors and managed to score a meeting. Well done, the fun begins.

The secret behind my suggestions below is a simple thing called professional etiquette. I won't go into too much detail on it, but here's a definition I quite like:

"Professional etiquette is an unwritten code of conduct regarding the interactions among the members in a business setting. When proper professional etiquette is used, all involved are able to feel more comfortable, and things tend to flow more smoothly."

Do your research

Don't show up without doing your research. Remember the person's name. Spell it correctly in all of your correspondence—getting this simple thing wrong shows that you're not really focussed on what's important—details.

Before your meeting, review the studio website and the projects they've worked on recently. Do a Google News search with the studio name and location as the search term. This will show you recent mentions of the business in news.

Glance at the people—you never know, you might know someone who works there.

Confirm the meeting and details, the day before

Send an email the day before confirming:

  • that the meeting is still on
  • the location
  • the time

If you don't receive a response, it's ok. Just turn up. Some people (myself included) don't check their emails daily.

Being on time means arriving 15 minutes early

This one is simple. Turn up early. You never know what will happen. There might be traffic, you might get lost or you might not find parking. Whatever it is, it will happen so mitigate the risk and arrive early. The worst case scenario is that you have a few minutes to go for a walk whilst you wait.

Stand don't sit

When I'm in waiting rooms, waiting to meet with someone I've never met before, or am in an interview scenario, I rarely sit. It's something that has become a habit of mine—I'm not sure where I picked it up from, but I don't do it. Why?

  • Standing makes me fee like I'm ready
  • Sitting puts me physically lower than the person who is going to walk in and inevitably try to shake my hand
  • I want to ensure that we are both equals, no one is more important than the other—so I'll stand to show them that I'm ready

When they finally arrive, be prepared to suggest where you're going for coffee. You said it would be your shout, remember?

Have a list of questions ready to go

Pre-write your questions into a notebook (not an iPhone, iPad or laptop) and bring a pen because you'll need to take notes. After all that's what you're there for.

I've sat in meetings like this often and it's extremely difficult and awkward for both parties when the person who requested the meeting (in this case, you) hasn't got any questions to ask.

Your questions shouldn't be about your strengths, don't try to show your potential new mentor how clever you are. They should be about your weaknesses—you're here to learn so learn. Use the time to learn the things you don't know.

Think about what you want them to say to the people in their office when you leave

Your brand is what people think of you after you've left the room. Think about what the person you'll meet with will say when they go back to the office after your meeting and are asked who they met with. Write it down:

"Jim was awesome. Did you know he's a Crossfit nut?"
"OMG! Jim was so incredibly clever—what are they feeding those kids at Uni these days?"

Writing it down gives you something to aim for.

Find common ground

I've mentioned in a previous post that there are so many other things in our lives that should hold an equal measure of importance to us as our careers. 

Your aim in this scenario should be to find common ground, and that might not have anything to do with work. Finding common ground ensures that the conversation flows; and when a conversation flows both people leave that interaction feeling positive.

If you're ever meeting with me and you'd like to find common ground, believe me 'work' and 'career' are going to be a sorry third or fourth on the list of things that will keep me talking.


Thank them at the start. Thank them again at the end.


Remind them why you're catching up. People forget. If they're anything like me, the meeting will be four to five weeks in advance—so many other things happen in four to five weeks!

Wrap it up in the time you promised you'd steal


Don't over spend the time they've given you. Time is a precious resource so don't steal it off someone. Wrap up the meeting, then them and ask:

"I'd love to keep in touch, is that ok? I'll keep you posted on how I'm going with my [insert the thing you're trying to achieve]."

When they say yes, you have a new mentor.