By Anne Evenson
The right mentorship can have extensive benefits. Make certain that you (and your mentor!) get the most out of this relationship.
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”
Denzel Washington, American actor, director, and producer
Working with a mentor can be a rewarding and invaluable experience that can offer life and career-changing benefits to the mentee. A good mentor can open your eyes to new possibilities and open doors to new opportunities. If you are fortunate enough to have a mentor willing to help you grow and develop professionally, then it’s incumbent upon you as the mentee to nurture this special relationship. A successful mentoring arrangement is committed, flexible and reciprocal.
Though every relationship between a mentor and their mentee will vary depending on each individual and their objectives and expectations, there are general guidelines you can follow to maximize your mentorship.
Understand Your Goals and Objectives
It is imperative that you begin your journey by knowing what you want to achieve with a mentor relationship. Are you seeking general career guidance, or do you have a specific goal, such as attaining a promotion or switching professions? Perhaps you’re considering a career change and need to learn everything you can about working within a new field. If you’ve been promoted to a management position, you may recognize that you need new skills to succeed. You might seek advice about enhancing your career options in a particular area or need help networking with people in a specific industry. Understanding your goals and objectives will help you identify the best candidate to ensure a successful outcome.
Find the Right Mentor
Many companies and organizations offer mentorship opportunities through existing programs, but if you must find a mentor yourself, you can employ the following tactics. Get to know people in leadership positions outside of your department. Attend presentations or lectures to identify people who hold similar interests. Ask a colleague or former supervisor for a recommendation. If you aren’t acquainted with the person you want to approach as a possible mentor, ask if they are available to briefly meet with you and then see if you can build rapport with them. If you can convince them to take an interest in your future, they may be amenable to your request.
Inquiring whether someone would consider being your mentor may seem intimidating but remember that many people are honored to be asked if you approach them in an authentic, respectful manner. Begin by communicating what you admire about them, so they understand why you would like them to be your mentor. Be sincere but not overly effusive and demonstrate that you’ve given this idea serious consideration. Explain your current situation and how you think their experience and advice could help you. People often agree to become mentors because they find the passion and potential of their mentees inspiring. Be clear and concise about what you’re asking someone to commit to; ask, “Would you consider becoming my mentor?”. If the response is “no,” don’t take it personally. Look at the experience as a trial run and move onto someone else until you find the right person.
Establish Expectations and Be Prepared
In your first conversations with your mentor, discuss and clarify expectations regarding roles and responsibilities. Create a mentoring agreement that summarizes the terms of the relationship. For example, your mentor’s duties might include sharing information about their education, background, skills and interests. As a mentee, you may agree to set up meeting times and maintain regular contact with your mentor.
Come to your first meeting prepared with your list of short and long-term career goals and objectives. Present your academic and professional experience and your personal and professional responsibilities. Be prepared to discuss your plans for promotion and any educational or professional development needs. Be candid about your successes and failures and ask for specific guidance and advice related to your values and ideas. The more definitively you can articulate your objectives, the easier it will be for your mentor to help you.
Engage and Execute
Prepare a detailed agenda for each mentoring session and share this with your mentor before each meeting. This agenda should include specific questions or conversation topics that you would like to discuss with your mentor. Be considerate of your mentor’s most precious commodity: their time. Do not contact them more than necessary, arrive early or on time to every meeting and never stay over your allotted time limit. Show that you appreciate your mentor’s investment of time and energy in you and always maintain confidentiality.
Engage fully in your mentorship by carefully listening and following their advice with energy and enthusiasm. Actively participate and display a sincere interest in your mentor. Ask questions related to their career and how they ended up in their current position. This behavior will show them that you are serious about your professional development and career goals and value their mentorship. The best mentees are energy contributors, not just energy recipients.
Accept positive feedback and constructive criticism graciously. Receiving honest evaluations from a senior professional can help you focus on areas that need improvement. They can also alert you to strengths, which you may have been previously unaware that you possessed. Be sure to scrutinize every suggestion they present, even if you decide not to act. Take advantage of the opportunities presented by your mentor and follow through on commitments and goals set forth by your mentor.
A good mentor can expand your professional network and help you define career goals and strategies. As a mentee, you will build self-advocacy skills and confidence, and you may gain access to potential internships and job opportunities.
Remember that you’re looking for someone whose skills you aspire to and whose knowledge you seek. Everyone has a unique concept of their ideal career, and your journey will likely look different than your mentor’s. Depend on them for advice and encouragement, but always keep your goals in sight and only do what feels right to you. A successful mentorship can strengthen your conviction and propel you into the future of your dreams!
Download our mentorship resources.
Anne Evenson is a native Austinite and a proud Veteran’s spouse with over 20 years of marketing, communications and program coordination experience in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She is also a sculptor, jeweler and all-around dabbler in the arts and loves to help military-connected individuals discover their inner creativity.
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