Etiquette: How to Contact an Old Mentor

If you haven’t been in contact with an old mentor for a while, the relationship interests can be complicated. You usually want to be in contact with this person because of their expertise and experience. Before you search out an old mentor, there are a few things to know:

Your Reasons for Contact

The main issue is whether the mentor is the right person to ask in your circumstances. Remember the mentor’s style, and approach to situations. You need to ask yourself a few questions to establish a solid basis for reactivating the contact. Ask yourself:

  • Is the mentor likely to be receptive to your current issues?
  • What sort of reaction and advice would you expect?
  • Is the mentor likely to be interested in your problem, or is the situation very different to your former issues?

Mentor Issues

Mentors are usually highly receptive people. They often act from altruistic and professional motives. Be sure you include all possibilities of the contact:

  • Any past issues may return to life, however inappropriately. The mentor may have reservations about restarting the relationship if there were any prior issues.
  • Lack of contact may also mean the mentor has moved on professionally, and can’t operate as an “at call” mentor in the same way, even if they want to help.
  • You may have been out of the loop too long regarding the mentor’s situation.

Contact issues

Depending on the circumstances, the new contact may present some difficulties. If you just stopped contacting the person, you’ll have an image problem with the mentor. Mentors usually provide services at a cost to themselves, and a perceived lack of appreciation and lack of courtesy in notifying them doesn’t help.

The reason you’re getting back in contact will be an issue, whatever the situation. People working in an advisory role will naturally form an opinion of your reasons for contact, and it may be a negative opinion. Mentors are supposed to be unbiased people, and professionally they are. A negative opinion may obstruct giving the response you need. You need to address all of these issues in detail, when getting back in contact. Your contact introduction should explain: 

  • Why you lost contact.
  • Why you’re getting back in contact.
  • Outline the reason for needing the mentor’s help.
  • Give a value of the issues; show how important they are to you.

The contact approach 

This is an example of a contact email to a former mentor covering all angles:

Dear Jack

Sorry I haven’t been in contact for so long, but business was taking up all my time. The business has been going brilliantly since we last spoke, by the way, thanks largely to your guidance on the sales situation. 

I really need to talk to you about a professional ethics issue which has me absolutely baffled. I’ve been wracking my mind trying to figure out how to handle it. My wife reminded me, somewhat pointedly, that you would be the natural person to ask about these problems.

I would highly value your professional views on this very complex situation.