You’re never too senior to have a mentor. While you are responsible for your professional development, mentorship has often elevates careers. As you chart your course for following your career interests and goals, you can benefit tremendously from having a mentor to consult with and learn from along the way. After all, things go better when done with others. In this post, we’ll discuss how mentees can be proactive and strategic to get the most out of the mentoring relationship and advise mentors on how they can best help their mentees.
If you’re the mentee, we recommend you take the initiative to drive the relationship. The mentor is carving time out of their busy schedules to help and listen to you, usually without receiving anything in return. Therefore, you want to make sure every minute counts. First, set up a meeting and make sure you keep the appointment. It’s easy to postpone a ‘networking’ chat because it’s not a mandatory meeting. Still, in addition to career advice and guidance, you’re also looking to broaden your network with someone key to your professional interests. It’s a mutual learning opportunity. If your mentor is in the same organization, they can talk to you about how they moved up or navigated the organization, and recommend key contacts you can connect with or courses you can take. If your mentor is from another organization or even a different industry, you can still learn about and exchange information about industry perspectives and professional growth.
Additionally, referrals can come from the most unexpected sources; you never know when a relevant position could open up, and your mentor considers you.
It’s a good idea to have a plan for your meeting and communicate it to your mentor if you’re comfortable. This way your mentor has time to think about how they can help you and even put goals into action, like reaching out to a few of their contacts before your meeting. Of course, the plan doesn’t have to be like a business proposal—a few bullet points are fine. However, even though you want a productive meeting, you’re still building a relationship. Even though the relationship is for the mentee's benefit, you can make the time your mentor spends with you enjoyable for them also. Go into your meeting with a smile and ask your mentor how they’re doing. Get to know them and ask a few questions. There’s no harm in volunteering a little information about yourself, like any courses you’re taking or if you participate in an organization outside of work. Make your mentor feel good about their time with you.
What if you’re the mentor? Congratulations—you have the opportunity to make a significant impact on someone else’s career. Therefore, you’ll want to be thoughtful about your interactions with the person who’s eager to learn from you. As Harvard Business Review points out, great mentors focus on the whole person, not just their career. Ask your mentee to share their professional story for 20 or 30 minutes and offer to tell them yours. Ask questions like, “What keeps you up at night? What do you do to ‘reboot?’ Can you see yourself being fulfilled on your current career path for the next five years?” It shows that you’re focused on really understanding your mentee and developing the relationship, not just one of you talking “at” the other.
When you’re focusing on your mentee, uncover their strengths and passions. Sometimes it takes a person outside of ourselves to recognize the unique gifts and interests we’ve been hiding. For example, your mentee may be a technologist but wants a design career, so you can talk to them about how to network with design people internally or take on a design ‘stretch’ project. Encourage them to take personality assessments like Myers-Brigg or the Enneagram test so they can understand their unique attributes and work on their weaknesses. Another idea for your time together is to help them navigate challenges in their work life. However, don’t just tell them what to do. Ask them questions about the situation to get the problem out of their head and figure out on their own a constructive strategy for improvement. Often mentees just need a sounding board as well as someone to teach them how to help themselves. This way, they’ll get more out of your mentorship and have confidence as they apply their learnings to their professional lives.
Relationships drive business, and a mentor can help you take your career to new heights. Have a plan for your interactions with your mentor, and make sure the relationship is reciprocal. You could find that you’re impacting your mentor’s career just as much as they’re impacting yours.