This blog post is written for people who hear that having a mentor can be very helpful for their career, but don’t know why or what to expect. I’ve been asked to mentor many people in the past, from people just starting their career to first line managers, and have found that many people approach the process wrong. People seeking a mentor often start their first meetings with a mentor by just talking about how things are going in their lives at home or in the workplace. While this may be a pleasant conversation, it really doesn’t let the mentor and mentee discuss anything in a meaningful way. Here are four tips to anyone who is either being assigned to work with a mentor or is thinking about asking somebody to be their mentor:
Really think about and decide what is the primary reason that you want a mentor. Is it to understand how to behave in a new role? Is it to seek guidance on how to deal with difficult people or situations? Is it to understand how to give your career a jumpstart? You can certainly learn a lot from a great mentor, but usually your time together will be short — over a cup of coffee, or in brief meetings — so stay very focused on one topic area for a period of time. A mentor’s role is not to be just a coffee-buddy (If that is what you are looking for, then by all means find somebody to just have coffee with).
When you get some one-on-one time, have a bit of social small-talk, but focus most of your time together discussing what you are seeking guidance on. A mentor’s role is generally not to help you figure out which of your ten problems is the most important, but to help you make progress on the most important problems that you are facing.
A mentor isn’t an all-knowing oracle, but they can offer very good advice based on years of experience. So the tip is not to dominate the conversation without giving your mentor an opportunity to respond. If your mentor asks you a question to make you think about what you are doing, then actually think about what you are doing and don’t simply respond with the first thing that comes to mind. The mentor’s role is not to do your job for you but to make you think differently about how to approach your problem.
Be open to criticism and being honest with your mentor and yourself. The reason that mentors can be effective is that they aren’t generally involved in the problems that you are dealing with. As a result, they can give a frank and independent perspective. You may not like everything that you hear, but the mentor’s role is to provide suggestions and guidance on how you can improve, not necessarily guidance that will make you feel better about yourself.
Can a mentor help? Absolutely. A great mentor can be a life-long guide or just somebody you are assigned to work with as you start in a new company. In any case, we are all in the process of learning something that somebody else has already figured out. We may as well learn from the mistakes of others when they offer their wisdom.
What’s the most helpful advice you’ve been given on how to utilize a mentor-mentee relationship? Share your wisdom with us in a comment below!
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