Looking for a way to get your budding career onto the fast track?
You’ll find there’s nothing like having the voice of experience to coax you along. From insurance to real estate to food and beverage, just about every industry includes mentoring as a way to develop professional skills
The relationship between the mentor and the person being mentored—the mentee—seems like a one-way street, because it’s superficially a top-to-bottom arrangement. At its core, however, the mentor-mentee relationship works both ways.
Mentors want to see lasting and meaningful change in the mentee’s professional life, enough to significantly benefit his (or her) future. A mentor has no way of knowing how he’s doing if the mentee doesn’t tell him. Feedback is crucial for both parties. As mentee, you must show your appreciation for the relationship and how it is impacting your career goals.
Your mentor offers encouragement and insight and will be an advocate for you when career opportunities present themselves. A career mentor will give you guidance and support, share ideas and provide feedback. He or she will be your coach, showing you the written and unwritten rules for success within a company. If you’re lucky, your mentor will become a trusted ally and friend.
Your mentor will broaden your career prospects by sharing the wisdom that comes with experience. He or she will also help broaden your professional network. No matter what your field, knowing the right people is crucial. Having access to your mentor’s personal and professional network now will continue to broaden your career opportunities long after the mentorship is over.
Most executives in the private sector were mentees in corporate mentoring programs early in their careers. Mentorships aren’t as common in the social sector, but some nonprofits have structured programs to match entry-level workers with veteran employees.
If you’re seeking a mentor, find someone who has achieved success in your chosen field. They don’t have to be the boss; they just have to be someone who has the reputation you want for yourself in years to come. To get a sense of someone’s professional reputation, you’ll need to ask around and find out what people in the industry are saying about them.
Match your needs with a potential mentor’s strengths. This means making your needs and expectations crystal-clear when you have your first meeting. The chemistry between the two of you is important. Personality also goes a long way. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time with your mentor, make sure it’s someone you get along with and can easily approach with all the questions you’ll have.
A mentor-mentee relationship can be situational (established for a specific project), formal (part of a company’s mentoring program) or informal (personally arranged between the mentor and mentee). Each kind requires that both parties agree on the following from the start:
- Frequency and durations of meetings
- Meeting venue
- Method of communication
Mentor/mentee meetings typically last an hour or so and are at least once a week. They’re an opportunity for both sides to brainstorm and update one another on current projects. Be sure to share successes with your mentor. This isn’t a session for you to complain about coworkers and obstacles. Instead, explain the professional hurdles you face to your mentor, then give him or her time to consider them and present solutions that you may not have considered.
For the relationship to benefit both of you, you must:
- Accept one another
- Agree on achieving specific goals
- Take initiative and share risks
- Resolve unmet expectations and objectives
Key factors in building an effective mentor/mentee relationship include:
- Mutual respect
- Shared values
- Acceptance and flexibility
- Honesty and direct communication
As the mentee, it will be up to you to identify the objectives of the mentorship from the beginning. This means asking questions, setting up goals (with corresponding benchmarks and deadlines) and taking charge of your professional development and learning. Don’t forget to give back to the relationship by contributing ideas and volunteering to take on the little tasks that will advance larger goals.