I am a recent graduate who just started a new position at a small startup. Along my short journey thus far, I have connected with a few people outside my company whom I have asked for career advice and whom I think could be great mentors for me. However, I would like to formalize, or start formalizing, our premature (I have only spoken to them 1-2 times in total) relationship which currently consists solely of advice-seeking to a mentor/mentee relationship. What is the best way to approach this? It feels inappropriate and unprofessional to ask them to "be my mentor please!" Any advice is appreciated. I expect the answer here to depend on whether the mentor figure is outside or inside one's company since if they are outside (as in my case) it is much less of an expectation for them to give me their time free of charge.
Finding a mentor outside your company is indeed much harder as the incentive/impact is greatly diminishing (e.g. I got rewarded a lot in performance review for mentoring teammates at Meta). I'm glad you're cognizant of that and thinking about the value exchange.
My advice here is to treat them more as a peer (more like friends on equal standing), rather than a mentor (clear value provider and value extractor). You can do this through the following (a lot of these are better in person).
I also recommend reaching out to folks in the Taro community around the same level as you and seeing if they're down for a monthly (or even bi-weekly) chat where you can discuss career progression and what you've learned since the last chat. 2 very early Taro members found great success with this using the Taro content as the bedrock: Every meeting they would go through some Taro content together and socialize the learning they extracted and how they applied it to their jobs.
Here's another good discussion about this topic: "How does one attract a sponsor who is invested in their growth?"
It's great that you are taking a step to finding a mentor. You'll be able to avoid a lot of common mistakes and optimize your career trajectory by doing this.
A lot of times, mentorship relationships are organic. They consist of cycles where you ask a mentor questions, act on their answers if they make sense, and then report back to them with the results of their advice. After a few of those cycles with someone, you will unofficially be a mentee of theirs. The important part is acting on their advice and reporting back to them because it shows that you are serious about the advice that they are giving out.
Take a few minutes to hammer out what you are looking for in a career so you can trace the steps to get to that point. This will help to focus the questions that you ask your mentor.
I'm also using this as an opportunity to plug our Taro Networking Service. You can find other Taro community members who are more senior than you who are open to coffee chats or mentoring.