Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Ask an Honest HR Professional: How Do I Ask a Former Boss to Be My Mentor?

two people at coffee shop
Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images

Dear HR Professional,

I think my former boss would make a great mentor. How do I go about asking him in a way that isn’t awkward?

Modest Mentee

Dear Modest Mentee,

First things first, congratulations! You’re taking a great step forward on your path of self-improvement by considering who you want as a mentor.

Oftentimes, having your former boss play that part is a natural fit. After all, they know the most about your performance—including where you excel and where you have room for growth. They also have more experience, are further along in their careers, and may be better able to guide you as a result.

But, let’s face it—actually asking your former boss to mentor you is the nerve-wracking part. Here are four easy steps to help you pop that question.

Step 1: Explain Your Reasoning

Your previous manager might seem like a no-brainer option. But, that doesn’t mean being a mentor is an obvious fit to them. Start your request by outlining why you think they’re a solid match.

Were they a good coach? Were they able to give you honest, unfiltered feedback? Would you like to reach the same career aspirations? Do they have an extensive professional network?

There are a million different reasons why you want them specifically to be personally invested in your growth. By articulating the “why,” you can better direct the goals of the relationship.

Step 2: Outline Your Goals

Speaking of goals, this step involves deciding what you want to get out of the mentorship. What does success look like for you and how could your former boss support you in that?

Outlining your objectives from the outset gives your previous supervisor a clearer understanding of what you’re aiming to achieve—which, in turn, allows them to get a better grasp on whether or not they could actually help, as well as how much of a commitment they’re looking at.

Step 3: Pop the Question

Once you’ve laid that groundwork, you’re ready to make that ask.

Whether you ask in-person or through email (this article explains how to do that) is up to you and the type of relationship you already have. Either way, you should be prepared with the following talking points:

  • Why you’re looking for a mentor
  • Why you think they can help
  • What you’re hoping to achieve
  • What you’re willing to commit to

Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to end by thanking them for their consideration!

Step 4: Monitor the Cues

If they are taking weeks or months to respond, now might not be the best time for them. Don’t get offended or try to force it. Instead, leave it on a good note by sending a follow-up email stating that you assume they’re not interested, but that you still appreciate the awesome example they set for you in your career. Remember, you never know if they’ll be available in the future or how your paths will cross again!

Asking your former boss to be your mentor can be nerve-wracking. But, in most cases, your supervisor will be flattered that you thought so highly of them. Put these steps to work, and you’ll make that request in a way that’s polite, professional, and way less awkward than you’re anticipating. Good luck!

This article is part of our Ask an Expert series—a column dedicated to helping you tackle your biggest career concerns. Our experts are excited to answer all of your burning questions, and you can submit one by emailing us at editor(at)themuse(dot)com and using Ask an Honest HR Professional in the subject line.

Your letter may be published in an article on The Muse. All letters to Ask an Expert become the property of Daily Muse, Inc and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.