Mentorship can be a profound opportunity for professional development for both parties. It can be an eye-opening experience, especially for new mentors that have an understanding of career development. Below, we’ve listed 10 tips you need to know if you want to build or improve your mentoring relationship.
1. Approach each mentorship differently.
While you can do your best to categorize a mentor/mentee relationship, everyone is unique. When you first start out, it’s important to take the time to assess your own style and readiness and think about what kind of commitment you can and want to make.
2. Set expectations together in the very beginning.
Once you’ve reflected on your approach, both you and your mentee will find it helpful to sit down and go over expectations — especially if you’re just getting to know each other. Communication skills can and should be the first lesson the mentee receives – due to its centrality in the corporate world.
For example, let’s say an alum from your alma mater sends you a cold email asking what it’s like to work at your company. You might be wondering if they asked you that because they want to work for your company, or whether they’re just curious about what a company in your industry is like. Understanding exactly where they’re coming from is going to help drive your discussion in the direction that’s helpful for both of you. If your company isn’t hiring or you aren’t comfortable helping them get a job, for instance, then you’ll want to set those expectations early.
A mentorship program built on mutual respect is the key to successful mentoring. Even if your mentee isn’t a protege, you can help him excel in his career path – but only after sorting out expectations together.
3. Take a genuine interest in your mentee as a person.
A mentor/mentee relationship is a very personal one. You can give mediocre advice without really knowing a person, but to stand out as an amazing mentor, you’re really going to have to get to know your mentee on a personal level.
You probably have some of the more career-oriented questions down: what their working style is, their dream job, goals for their current job, and so on and so forth. But what about the stuff that makes them … them? Getting to know your mentee on a deeper level will help you build a strong relationship, and it’ll also help you understand who they are as a person, their likes and dislikes, how they interact with others, and so on.
So if your mentee tells you they had a great weekend, don’t just move on with the program. Ask them what they did, whom they did it with, or what their relationship is like with those people.
One great way to get to know someone? Become an active listener. This is easier said than done: It means making a conscious effort to really, truly pay attention to what your mentee is saying, instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next. You might worry that you need to come up with something helpful right away, when in fact, the best thing you can do for your mentee is to listen closely to what they’re saying, ask open questions to dig deeper and act as a sounding board.
This brings me to my next tip …
4. Know when to wait before giving advice.
When you’re mentoring someone, you might feel pressured to give them advice straight away. But not all feedback is constructive feedback, and giving unhelpful — or unwelcome — feedback can be detrimental to your relationship. An amazing mentor knows how to determine whether or not a situation lends itself to off-the-cuff feedback or really thoughtful feedback. Remember, an effective mentor will always follow up with advice and tips, and not just seek to advise the mentee there and then.
What might that look like in a real conversation? “Thanks for sharing this with me. I’m going to take some time and give this some serious thought before we continue. It’s important to me that I’m giving you the best possible solution. Why don’t we continue talking about it [tomorrow/next week/next time we meet]? I’ll book some time.”
5. Improve your emotional intelligence.
Being emotionally intelligent is a big part of being an amazing mentor. Any time you become a mentor for someone, you’ll find yourself getting to know their unique personality, their wants and needs, the experiences that have shaped them, and how they deal with different situations.
The best mentors know how to unlock this information by asking the right questions, reading their mentee’s body language, being open-minded, and even acknowledging and controlling their own emotions.
6. Don’t assume anything about your mentee — ask.
It’s easy to fall into stereotypes or not see a situation from another person’s perspective. But great mentors recognize that it’s their responsibility to break through common assumptions by asking questions and digging deeper. This is especially true if you’re mentoring someone who’s in the early stages of their career, or if the two of you are just getting to know each other and they aren’t sure how transparent to be.
In fact, scrolling their social media isn’t entirely representative of their lives, either. A mentee could have a distinct personal life built through his own experiences, and that can get blurred or difficult to disect. A good mentor will be inquisitive, adapting his/her advices to the mentees learning styles and developing a person-speicifc mentoring program.
Only once you’ve gotten an honest background on a problem can you share helpful, relevant feedback — without making decisions for your mentee. That’s up to them.
7. Be really forthcoming about mistakes you’ve made.
Being open to sharing your own mistakes and failures is one of the best gifts a mentor can give. Not only is it helpful information for problem-solving purposes, but it also helps build trust, gives them permission to share their own mistakes, and strengthens the relationship overall.
Potential mentors should be open to sharing some aspects of their professional/personal lives. Anecdotes improve retention, in both the short-term and long-term.
8. Celebrate their achievements.
Because people often look for or call upon a mentor to help them with tough situations, many mentorship conversations revolve around the negative stuff. When you take the time to highlight and even celebrate your mentee’s successes and achievements, you’re not just balancing out the mood of those conversations — you’re also building your mentee’s confidence, reinforcing good behavior, and keeping them focused and motivated. Depending on the relationship, mentees might also be seeking approval from their mentors — and acknowledging their success is a way to satisfy that psychological need for recognition.
How you go about celebrating their achievements is entirely up to you. For example, if you’re a peer mentor helping onboard a new employee, you may choose to publicly acknowledge them either by sharing their success with their team or even just with their manager.
9. Give more than you ask for.
I believe in the principle of “what goes around, comes around.” I like to think about my mentors who’ve gone out of their way to meet me for coffee, give me feedback on job choices, point me to resources, and so on. The best mentors I’ve had have selflessly offered their time and wisdom to me — and I’m sure the best mentors you’ve had have done the same. Think about the impact they’ve had on your career, and offer the same to your mentees.
“Give more than you ask for,” is how Ye puts it. “Most mentees inherently have less to offer because they’re typically younger and less experienced. It can be hard to ask for help if you feel like you’re a burden on someone else. Giving advice or help freely — and making it clear you’re happy to do so — is a huge help to ease those anxieties.”
A good mentor is a role model both inside and outside the office.
10. Seek out classes or projects related to skills your mentee wants to develop.
Lastly, great mentors look for situations — and some even create situations — where their mentees can get involved to learn some of the skills they’ve been hoping to learn. It doesn’t matter how much or how little experience you have in your mentee’s current or desired job or industry — you can still give them helpful resources to succeed.
It can be anything from connecting them with someone with experience in their dream job or industry or sending them a website to a conference or class they might want to sign up for. Take note of the areas in which your mentee wants to grow, and always be looking for opportunities to point them in the right direction.
If you work at the same company as your mentee and have some involvement in their experience, Corliss suggests introducing new projects to them over time as a way to build a strong foundation.
“First, start with something that gives context,” she says. “This could be something that requires research and is genuinely valuable. Then, hand off something small that you normally do for your intern or mentee to own, like a weekly email, or a blog post. This will help your mentee learn how to develop ownership over something, including how to execute and reach a goal on his or her own. Then, build upon that foundation.”
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