“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was a lousy mentee. A really lousy mentee to be precise. I had the opportunity to talk through my career development with someone I truly respected who was inviting and warm and wanted to help me. I did not truly see the value in it and wasted it. How could I have done better?
Today’s post is about helping you as a mentee get more out of your mentoring relationships. I have the benefit of a mentee and mentor’s perspective. I am continually surprised both for better and for worse, how mentees approach this relationship. As a mentee you have access to the time of a volunteer that can help give perspective and advice on how you should develop your career. Get the most out of it!
A model mentee’s attitude
Know why you are mentoring: Are you after a promotion? or to improve your appraisal grade or to change jobs? Without having a sense of what you are trying to do, it is hard for you to get the right advice
Be proactive: The right mentor will not just appear. You need to get involved in a programme where mentorship is offered or develop your own mentoring relationship.
Be committed to the process: With commitment your mind will be more receptive and you will get more out of it.
Know it will be uncomfortable: You will get more out of mentoring if you open yourself for some honest feedback. This will be genuinely uncomfortable.
How to find your mentor
Don’t wait for someone to mentor you, find someone you respect or join a programme
If you have someone in mind, ask for advice first. If the chemistry is good ask for a second meeting and only then discuss a mentoring relationship. Mentoring someone is a big commitment - how can you show you are someone they might like to work with. Do not ask someone you do not know well for a "coffee" - you have a greater chance of getting on their calendar if you call it "industry advice" or "question about going from associate to VP"
You could receive great mentoring from someone outside your industry. Someone you respect who aligns with your values and can help harness your motivation will be of great help regardless.
Don’t be necessarily tempted to be mentored by the most senior person you know. This is a common trap and generally results in finding hard to connect with someone.
Starting your mentoring journey
You have now secured a mentor and are looking to get started on the right foot:
Do your homework: Find out about your mentor from linked in and see what path they have taken. What experiences and skills are suggested by their profile. Make sure you have a clear story of your background too. Be prepared to explain your journey and where you would like to be headed.
Prepare for each meeting:
What questions do you have?
How have you fared on the action points agreed in the previous meeting?
What reflections do you have from the last conversation?
How has the intervening period been?
Have there been any situations you have found tough to manage and need to talk through?
What skills or habits should you be developing (e.g. public speaking, networking, goal-setting etc.)
Arrange meetings: With two busy professionals, you need to have someone taking the lead on arranging meetings. It is the role of the mentee to do that. If you are meeting every two months, then a month before, give 10 times and dates for the next month and be willing to be flexible if the first round does not yield the best time.
Try and meet them in person: When meeting someone you do not know as well, if possible meet them in person. It truly is a considerably more effective way of getting mentoring.
At the meeting
You have a mentor and are prepped and ready to start. How can you get the most out of the meeting.
Be open and honest: Share your real thoughts and you will get answers to your real challenges.
Listen: As in really listen. You will be offered advice from someone experienced. It is worth listening to.
Ask questions: How can you ask questions to someone who has been there before? Better questions lead to deeper more relevant dialogue. What parts of your future job are you interested in/nervous about? I would avoid questions which verge on the nosy and personal, try and avoid these.
Embrace constructive criticism: Know that you are not doing everything perfectly and be grateful for advice as to what you can do differently.
Make it a two-way relationship
Finally and importantly you want to make a mentoring relationship two-way, this is when it blossoms into a friendship. As a mentee you can really add value to your mentor - seize opportunities to make this as mutually beneficial as possible.
Show genuine concern about how they are doing. Ask questions about their wellbeing and attentively listen to their answers
Share with them any milestones or success you are having. They will feel invested in you and knowing that you are progressing will be gratifying. This is not instead of your challenges but as well as. Mentoring is not just about identifying weaknesses, but strengths and successes too.
Show gratitude: Say thank you for your their time and focus.
Share you learnings with others: Your mentor's work will be amplified if you can share it with your peers
Give feedback: If you mentor asks you for feedback, please be honest and open about the contact (diplomatically of course). If your mentor improves his or her mentoring skills, that is a real benefit they can bring to their work or other mentoring interactions.
Mentor others: To know that your experience has prompted you to mentor others will be hugely gratifying for your mentor.
To be the model mentee:
Have a clear purpose, be proactive in finding a mentor, commit to the process and get ready to be uncomfortable.
Prepare for meetings, jointly set clear objectives, ask questions, listen, and seek ways to do things better.
Realise the relationship can be mutually beneficial. Show gratitude, share success, share learnings with peers, provide feedback, and pay it forward by mentoring others.
Other blogs in the mentoring series: