how can I keep my former boss as a mentor?

A reader writes:

Last year, I was lucky enough to get a really great summer internship working for an amazing boss. It worked out so well that I ended up staying on a part-time basis during the school year. I know my boss liked me and was glad to have me; in my performance review, he called me an “all-star.”

Unfortunately, because there were no openings in the department, there was simply no way that he could hire me on a full-time basis after I finished school. So, after giving me lots of great advice about job-searching and helping me network (introducing me to people, bringing me to events with him, etc), he recommended me for a great full-time position somewhere else, which I was offered and ultimately accepted.

I started the new job last week, and although I really like it, I miss my old boss! While we had no formal mentoring relationship, I always thought of him as a mentor, and I would like to keep in contact with him. How should I do this? Should I ask him to lunch? If so, how long should I wait before doing so, and how often should I reach out to him to maintain the connection? I don’t want to be weird, but I’ve never really had a mentor before, so I’m not sure how this is supposed to work.

Email him!  Email him this week and tell him how the new job is going and thank him for his help. People in your shoes tend to underestimate how much people in your old boss’s shoes enjoy hearing about the outcome of their help and advice. Sometimes this is because they think that the person who helped them is too busy or important to care about something like their little update, but in fact it’s a rare person who doesn’t really enjoy and appreciate hearing this kind of thing, even if they are Busy and Important. In fact, it’s kind of disappointing when people don’t give these updates.

You can ask him to lunch too, as soon as you want. And tell him you’d like to stay in touch, that he’s been an important mentor to you and you hope he’ll continue to be. This isn’t likely to be an imposition — people who offer the kind of mentoring he’s already given tend to be happy to continue, even after you’re no longer working for them. (And if for some reason he doesn’t feel that way, you’ll pick up on it through his cues — if he takes a week or more to respond to emails, is vague about whether he can accept lunch invitations, etc.)

And be openly appreciative. The people who I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring despite not having an official professional relationship with them are the ones who made/make a point of telling me how much they appreciated it, and why. That’s the kind of thing makes it easy to be generous with people.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Unmana

    I’ve been lucky enough to keep in touch with former bosses, and I’d love to keep in touch with my current awesome boss too, after we stop working together.

    I completely agree with everything Alison said. I think former bosses are glad to hear how you’re doing.

    Once in a while, you could also send along an interesting article pertaining to your field, and say what you thought of it or how you’re using that advice or something like that. On his birthday, you could send a card with a handwritten note (my former bosses really appreciated that.)

  2. Anonymous

    OMG, I went through the exact same thing the OP did and was wondering the same too! Thanks for the post AAM!

    I had an internship, got along with my boss really well and looked up to him as a mentor and he was my first and only true mentor. He tried to get me a full-time position there, but due to budget cuts, there weren’t any openings. Although he didn’t recommend me a FT position elsewhere (besides being a reference), he did give me a lot of advice and I certainly miss working for him after my internship.

    AAM, when you mentioned that sometimes, people think someone is too busy or too important to care about a little update, I thought the exact same thing. During my internship, he was a great mentor in all other areas besides time… he was always so busy with meetings and finishing up his work. Towards the end, I only saw him for a few mins on some weeks and my e-mails were never answered. So b/c of that, I didn’t e-mail him or keep in contact with him since. It’s been almost 2 yrs now, and I’m not sure if I regret that.

  3. ChristineH

    Where was this post two years ago?? :P I had a 3.5 month temp position with my professional association, and the woman I reported to is probably the closest to a mentor I’ve ever had. I didn’t always agree with some of her ideas and she was never on time for supervision meetings, but she pushed me well out of my comfort zone at times, which, in hindsight, I really appreciated. We’ve since lost touch, sadly.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Email her now! Seriously. If I got a letter from someone I managed a few years ago, telling me how much they appreciated what I’d done for them then, I’d be thrilled. Even if it was just a 3.5 month temp position — in some ways, that makes it even nicer, the fact that you still think about her impact despite only working with her a short time.

      1. Jamie

        ITA! I did this for a former boss, also worried that he would think it was weird or wonder why I’d think he would care about my new job. Every now and then I’ll get an email from him because he was having a bad patch and would retread that email from me to remind him that he makes a difference.

        Send the email!

  4. Rob

    +1 to everything Alison said.

    The professional relationship was fantastic, and just because the OP has moved on, it doesn’t mean that relationship has to end. After all, who says the former boss may be able to help the OP in the future…or be able to be helped by the OP!

    I’m truly jealous of the OP, since I can’t say I’ve ever had a former boss who was as kick-ass as this. But if I ever do, I know that is one professional relationship I won’t let go!

  5. Deirdre Honner

    I would say that people like this are few and far between. Say thank you often and frequently. In the future, look for ways to repay his/her kindness.

    One thing I have noticed in some mentoring relationships is the sometimes the mentee waits for the mentor to reach out. You don’t have to wait. I love a comment above – send a note, an article, a card – or something that happened to you that made you laugh or share something you learned.

    You don’t just have to have lunch or coffee. It’s how you keep the relationship connected.

    It’s never too late to say thank you. And genuine gratitude is very much appreciated.

  6. OP

    Alison, thanks so much for answering my question! I was confused about this situation because a colleague suggested I wait two months before getting back in touch with my old boss (which seemed really long to me), and I didn’t want to seem weird or needy by emailing too soon. I’m glad to know that’s not really an issue.

    I did give him a handwritten thank-you note on my last day expressing my appreciation for everything he had done for me, so I think he will expect me to keep in touch. I love the idea of dropping him a note when I hear some interesting professional news! His work is frequently in the news, so I plan to send a note saying “Congrats on [your recent professional success]!” when applicable as well.

    Thanks again for the advice, everyone!

  7. lucy

    Wonderful timing for this question for me!

    I had a great mentor during my internship. She left the company at the same time I did and we were looking for new jobs simuntaneously. She told me to keep in touch and we kept and eye out for each other when we heard of openings. We emailed back and forth a couple times a week. When I got my job offer, I emailed her to let her know and to check up on her. She never responded. She called me once, but I think it was a butt-dial. haha

    I’m trying to figure out if I should email her again and give her a little status update about how my job is going, or if I should just take the hint that she didn’t respond to my last one?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Email her. The fact that you were emailing a couple of times a week previously seems like a lot, and that might have been overdoing it. But email her now and keep it light and see how it goes!

      1. lucy

        I might have been exaggerating with saying a couple times a week, but it was probably at least 3 times in a 2 week period, pretty much all initiated by her. I emailed her again to try. Thanks Alison!

  8. Anonymous

    While interviewing with your ex-employer for a new position question came up, if ur old manager asks you to do some work for him. Will you go and do it?

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