Few things can feel as professionally affirming as finding a great mentor. During moments of crisis or uncertainty, mentors provide a sense of reassurance, and help less experienced individuals make career and/or life decisions.
As a mentor, your job is to provide career guidance, insight, and advice. As a mentee, your responsibility is to listen and keep an open mind. And eventually, you both may realize the learning and enrichment runs both directions.
To make the most of your budding mentor-mentee relationship, consider these important tips:
For a mentor looking to nurture a mentee:
Do your homework
Skip the small talk and learn a little about your mentee before your first conversation, if you don’t already know them. “Put in the time to understand the person and his or her career and life situation, Ellen Ensher, a professor of management at Loyola Marymount University, previously told Fast Company. “Act as if it was your career on the line.”
Try to dig into commonalities, as well. Genuinely listen to your mentee’s concerns. If they offer information that seems to hint at more, ask them questions to encourage them to open up. You may find out you experienced a similar hurdle in your career or life, and can offer advice to set them on the right path.
Organize goal-setting efforts
As the mentor, you can help break down grand ambitions to specific goals. It is not uncommon for a mentee, or any individual pursuing a dream, to struggle to define an achievable plan. Create objectives which are clear, and abide by a “SMART” acronym, or goals which are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Offer a mix of accessibility and honesty
Approachability can carry a lot of weight in a mentor-mentee relationship. As the mentor, differentiate yourself from your mentee’s boss or even a therapist, by being completely transparent. A mentor can offer advice directly, providing a perspective on a personal level. Oftentimes, mentee can benefit from hearing, “Hey, this is what I would do.”
If your mentee is demonstrating real progress or about to make a big misstep, let them know by providing them with a confidence-boosting accolade or a well-intentioned warning. The more genuine you are, the more trusting your mentorship relationship, and the more it will thrive.
Finally, be generous. As the mentor, your network is more experienced and diverse. If you have confidence in your mentee’s abilities, connect them with individuals who will be beneficial to their career.
Understand mentorships are a dialogue
The beauty of a mentoring relationship is that mentees can learn from mentors, but mentors can also learn from their mentees. Mentorships that run like a two-way street are more effective—and fun! Ask your mentee to tell you about what they’re working on. They may have mastered a program or tool that you’d like to learn more about. A reciprocal relationship will help strengthen your bond and create value long after the mentoring relationship runs its course.
For a mentee gathering insight from a mentor:
Avoid creating a “profile” of the perfect mentor
As you consider who you want as a mentor, think broadly in terms of social group and age. Your mentor does not necessarily have to be older than you; in fact, they can be one of your peers. You can also have multiple mentors.
Think intentionally about how you will communicate. Your mentor does not always have to meet you for coffee or declare to everyone they will be your mentor. You just want to have them as a resource when you are in the middle of making a tough decision.
Make sure to thank your mentor
Mentees should make sure to acknowledge the time and energy their mentor is expending. If you work together, share with others in the company how much you appreciate your mentor, and when your mentor gives you advice, show you’re following it—or at least considering it seriously. As Melody McCloskey, a CEO and a longtime mentor explains, “If you say you’re going to do these four things and they don’t happen, the next time we talk it gets uncomfortable.”
Embrace the opportunity
Pipe up when you feel out of depth or need an eleventh-hour pep talk. Your mentor is taking time out of his or her schedule to offer their guidance. So the last thing you want to do is waste a sterling opportunity to grow.