Mentoring is one of those things, like exercise and reading, that people say they’d love to do if only they had more time.
Most people, once they reach a certain level of success start fielding regular requests for help and informational interviews. But the good news is that, with these smart tweaks, mentoring can fit in anyone’s schedule.
If you find you are constantly asked the same things, make a list of frequently asked questions. When someone asks for help, you can send over this list.
This serves several purposes. First, you can be helpful to anyone. Second, some chunk of people won’t follow up, and that’s fine. You can’t mentor everyone.
Someone gets on your calendar and "the biggest crime is that they ask things they could have easily just Googled." An FAQ ensures that any meetings will be more fruitful.
Ensher describes one high-profile woman who was constantly bombarded with mentoring requests. She started referring people who were early in their careers to her own former protégés.
Ensher calls this establishing a "mentoring lineage." The upside is that "You’re still growing your network. You’re becoming the grandmother or grandfather of this lineage," but you’re also focusing your personal efforts on the more advanced people you can best help.
If you’ve decided to take someone on, "One of the most important things you can do is to ask some questions," says Lois J. Zachary, director of the Center for Mentoring Excellence, and co-author of the new book Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable.
Ask why she’s chosen you. Ask where she sees herself in 10 years. Ask who she’d like to be introduced to. If you review her answers ahead of time, "then you don’t have to spend the time thinking, you spend it in conversation."
No, don’t answer email while you’re mentoring. Instead, recognize that "there are things we all have to do in our lives," says Ensher. Smart mentors "integrate people into what you’re already doing."
Do you and your protégé both have dogs? Meet at the dog park. She won’t mind going out of her way.
Even if you are hanging out at a dog park, effective mentoring requires treating a session with the same discipline you would any other professional get-together. You need an objective and an agenda.
Without those, you risk the whole thing descending into banter or, worse, "you get involved in day-to-day crises," says Zachary. "Mentoring really focuses on development." Afterwards, hold yourselves accountable. Did you use the time well, and what can you do better?
When mentoring sessions are scattered all over your calendar, you can feel pulled in multiple directions. Instead, give mentoring a specific time slot and place.
Perhaps you go to Starbucks on Fridays from 2-3:30 p.m. Anyone who wants to meet you for an informational interview can be slotted into that time. Or you stack up mentoring phone calls, one after another, during a similar time frame that works for you.
Often, people will say "if there’s every anything I can do to help you..." Why not take them up on it? "This is a two-way process," says Ensher. "Don’t be ashamed to get benefits out of it."
Have an answer for what people can do, such as sharing an article you wrote on social media. When you score immediate benefits from mentoring, it becomes pleasant, rather than yet another task on your list.