Great mentors can help shape our professional lives for the better. Whether informal or part of an official company initiative, mentoring is a valuable experience for just about anyone: those new or returning to the workforce, as well as those looking to expand upon their existing knowledge base.

But when you’re part of a distributed team or are making your way as a freelancer or solopreneur, you don’t have the opportunity to run into someone as you might in a physical office who could shepherd you through a new stage of your career.

As discussed in prior posts, I believe that the future of mentoring truly is remote, and that there are many ways for remote workers to give back as supportive mentors from a distance.

Wishing you could land an amazing virtual mentor? There are multiple ways to seek out and engage with a professional who can help you move forward in your career.

Here are some suggestions to help you find a virtual mentor:

Share your request publicly.

Don’t expect anyone to read your mind and know that you’re looking for a remote mentor. Think about the qualities that you’re seeking, the work-related problems you’re interested in solving, the career challenges you may be facing, and the preferred time commitment you’d like for this person to undertake with you.

Next, write a concise but thoughtful note that you can share with others. This could be an email to those in your personal and professional networks or a public post on your social media profiles. Once you’ve put your request out there, wait for folks to share leads or pose questions. Naturally, be sure to thank those who offer advice or introductions to their contacts.

Interview prospects.

Schedule a casual virtual coffee to get a feel for how you’d personally gel with a potential mentor. Introduce yourself over video chat and add some more context around your request, gauging their reactions to your words. Then, take the time to listen to their story.

Ask insightful questions that will help you better understand their management philosophy, values, and approach, as well as personal interests or hobbies. (Any worthwhile candidates should willingly invest 20-30 minutes on this crucial first step; if not, chances are they won’t prioritize the relationship and it’ll be less valuable for you both.) Be grateful for the time they spend with you, and follow up on your desired next steps—no ghosting!

Be open to lateral mentorship.

The former school of thought about mentoring went a little something like this: find someone who has already succeeded and “made it big,” and do what you can to learn from them. But who said the only people you can learn from are above you?

Aside from looking to those in leadership roles as potential remote mentors, there are plenty of others who could have a powerful impact on your professional growth. Consider the skills you could acquire from a remote colleague or an overseas peer in your field, and the ways in which you might contribute to their advancement, too. Perhaps best of all, these relationships may feel like they’re on more of an equal playing field, resulting in greater transparency and comfortable interactions from the outset.

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