10 Tips for Making the Most Out of a Mentoring Relationship
January is National Mentoring Month and while it is important to serve as a mentor to students and young adults, having a mentor while on the job can also be a benefit. Whether you are serving as a mentor or looking for one, here are some tips for building and cultivating that connection.
As a mentee:
Clarify what you are looking for.
As you set out to find a mentor, be sure you know what you would like to get out of such a relationship. Do you want to know more about a particular industry, just gain insight into the workforce and management, or leverage a more established person’s network? Write down several goals you have after six months or a year of a mentor-mentee relationship.
Figure out the type of mentor you want.
Determine your preferred communication style and how it might translate to a mentor-mentee relationship. Would you prefer to meet once a month for lunch or would you rather have more open and constant email communication? Would it be more engaging to chat while walking in the park or connect while analyzing the latest news on your laptop at a coffee shop? How much time would you like to spend with your mentor each month?
Test the waters.
Once you have an idea of who you would like to be your mentor, try to see how the two of you work together. Ask for advice on a smaller issue, or ask for feedback on a resume or cover letter. Does their advice make sense to you? Were they open to helping and willing to set aside a small amount of time for you? Perhaps they would be willing to invest more in your career.
Don’t just take.
After asking someone to be your mentor (and assuming they also say yes), be sure to reciprocate when you can. Of course you are there to learn from your mentor’s experiences, but if they are always interested in the latest social networking news, try to stay on top of the tech blogs. Are they looking to hire someone for a position that’s not quite right for you? Suggest a friend. Or if you know they like to read for fun, suggest an interesting book you’ve read. Offer to pay for coffee or lunch, and don’t forget to say thank you!
Be respectful, but also push back.
You have embarked on this relationship because you respect and admire your mentor. Listen when you are meeting with them, and, if you take their advice, be sure to let them know. Report back on how things go, so that you are showing your appreciation. However, no one is perfect. Be sure to do your research before doing anything drastic based on your mentor’s words. Ask questions if something doesn’t make sense to you and show a bit of your backbone.
As a mentor:
Clarify what you can provide.
When agreeing to be a mentor, it is important to set realistic expectations about how you can help your mentee. Set boundaries for how and how often your mentee can contact you and be sure to fully explain your current position and your background so they understand where you are coming from.
Be honest and give straight feedback.
This is a major element of any successful mentor/mentee relationship. People look to mentors to provide unbiased opinions about how they can improve their careers, so it is important to not beat around the bush and provide solid opinions based on experience.
On the flip side, it is important to be sensitive as a role model and more senior executive mentoring someone more junior. Understand that your mentee may be newer to the industry and lack confidence in certain areas. By mentoring them, you are helping them not only learn, but also grow.
Also, be sensitive to the fact that there may be differing opinions about certain issues and if there is an extra sensitive issue, encourage them to do research and connect with other people.
If you are able, give your mentee some small tasks to do as homework. It can be anything from a couple interesting articles to read, to reaching out to connect with others in the industry, to listening in on a related online webinar or attending a Meetup. Don’t overwhelm your mentee, of course, but a small amount of homework can keep your mentee invested in continued learning.
Be receptive and follow up.
As you meet with and connect with your mentee, be sure to pay attention to how they are responding to the connection and if there is something that isn’t working. Follow up with them via email after a meeting to see how a big project or meeting went and send them interesting articles or other news as you come across it. Additionally, see if you can introduce your mentee to colleagues or others in the industry to add to the connection.