How To: Find A Mentor (and succeed even if you don't)
I did a series of posts about hiring an intern (the original job posting, my analysis of round one, analysis of round two, analysis of round three, and explanation why I hired an assistant like that) and since then three very interesting things have happened:
1. The number of opportunities for the finalists exploded: Of the final 11 people I selected, 7 of them are now working on various projects either with me, or with one of three other friends of mine (one is also a best selling author, one runs a major tech company, one runs one of the biggest websites on the internet). The craziest thing is that all three of those friends came to me asking if I could pass along info on the runners-up, because they wanted to fill an intern type role, but didn't want to go through a whole formal hiring process, and they liked how I vetted people--I had no idea this would happen.
2. Some people disagreed with my choices: A bunch of people who were not selected to move forward at some point in the process took a look at the final winning Round Three submission and thought that they could’ve done something as good or better, and they should’ve been selected to be my research assistant.
3. They may have been right: I fully admit that #2 may be correct for some people. I designed my hiring process to have no false positives (people who looked qualified, but aren't), but the side affect is that there appear to be many false negatives (people who are qualified, but didn’t look it). After working with the people I selected for a little while, I can say that so far, all of them are doing great (no false positives), and one of the people I DIDN'T select to move forward in the process that I am working with anyway is doing great as well (so I did have at least one false negative).
Explanation: Because Ian (my old assistant) was so fucking good at his job, I ended up having to hire two different assistants to replace him. The primary research assistant I hired through the process lives far away from Austin, so I still needed another local person. By pure chance, one of the guys I train BJJ with happened to go through the research assistant process. With no help from me he made it to the third round, and his third round entry was good, but not in the top 11. I hired him anyway to do all the local tasks my remote assistant couldn't, and fill in on other things. Lo and behold, he's just as much a star as she is, and he probably could have filled the primary assistant role.
This led me to a few inescapable conclusions:
There is obviously a demand for this sort of part-time intern/mentor role; both from people who want to do it, and people who want to hire those people.
The people who want intern/mentee jobs have absolutely no idea how to go about getting them, or even that these jobs are an option.
The people who want to hire interns/mentees need some good way to identify them and contact them.
Well, when there are two groups of people who want to connect and they aren't doing it, that's a business right? Maybe. If there is, that's for someone else to start. I have enough other shit on my plate, the last thing I need are more business ideas (you're welcome to take that one and do something with it if you can).
I"m not going to start that business/website, but I can explain the non-traditional mentorship/internship to those of you who still want to find this on your own. There are two things you need to understand before you even begin this process:
1. No one is going to do it for you: This really applies to almost everything in life, but it REALLY applies whenever you’re trying to do something that is unusual, different or difficult: No one is going to give it to you. If you want it, you have to resolve that you’re going to do what it takes to get it, regardless of the obstacles you have to overcome or setbacks you may encounter. And then you have to, you know, actually go out and do it. Nothing gets done on its own, and no one will do it for you. It's up to you.
2. Focus on the process, not the result: What does this mean? It means that if everything you do is done with the sole purpose of working for [insert specific person here], you won’t get anywhere. The odds he/she’s going to hire you are very small, and if you don’t get hired quickly, you are eventually going to lose momentum and quit. But if you approach this as a process of learning and developing yourself for whatever it is you hope to do and develop a process that you enjoy and find rewarding to you regardless of end goal, then its something you can not only sustain for years, it has the added benefit of working no matter if you get an internship or not. This is a CRUCIAL concept to understand. Here’s a parable that best expresses this idea:
Let’s say you want to win this archery trophy. That trophy is the most important thing to you. So how do you get it? You have to be good at archery first, in order to hit the bullseye and ultimately get the trophy, right? And how to you get good at archery? By focusing on archery, not on the trophy. That’s the paradox; you're so focused on the outcome that you never learn to enjoy the process, which ultimately sets you up for failure. But if you focus on archery (the process), you're more likely to hit the target, and win the trophy.
Getting hired by a successful person to an internship/mentorship position is the same thing. Focus on the process, and you’ll reach your goal. Focus on the goal, and you’ll compromise the learning process and ultimately come up short. Whether you win the trophy or not is irrelevant -- the process is what matters.
So what is the process to getting hired as an intern/mentee? HOW do you get hired?
Well, the first thing you have to understand is that there is not one single way to get hired as an intern by someone famous who doesn’t have a formal hiring process. This isn’t a college application process where thousands of people do it every year and the process has very specific and identifiable steps. I cannot explain to you the exact specific steps you have to take, because there are infinite paths to the goal and those paths are going to vary depending on who you are, what you like to do, and who you want to work with. But there are some principles that apply to everyone trying to walk this path:
1. Demonstrate performance: Before anyone hires you—ESPECIALLY for a non-traditional job—they want to know one basic thing before everything else: Can you do the job? If you are looking for a normal job, then you list prior experience on your resume, right? Well, getting hired to be an intern for a successful person is not fundamentally different, you just have to demonstrate your performance in different ways.
That was the entire point of the process I created to hire my latest set of assistants: I wanted to see examples of the type of work they’d be asked to do for me, and I also wanted to see what they’d done before the application process started. And the sad fact is, the vast majority of people did not fail at the simple tasks I asked them to do, but they failed catastrophically at the task of their own life. I cannot tell you how many people said they wanted to, for example, "be a writer" but almost none of had actually WRITTEN anything. I’m not talking about a published book; I’m talking about a blog, or a tumblr or even a fucking half-decent Twitter feed. NOTHING. That WANT to write, but they don’t ACTUALLY WRITE ANYTHING. What the fuck is stopping them? Nothing but their bullshit excuses.