There’s no shortage of articles stressing the importance of mentors — that well-connected, seasoned professional who’s always there for a little career guidance. But finding someone to take on that role is often as difficult as determining if someone will be the ideal mentee.
After all, the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street. Both people should benefit in some way from the exchange. It’s likely neither of you have a lot of spare time, so each passing session should feel like a good use of your energy.
Whether you’re looking for a mentor, or considering becoming that go-to industry leader who’s ready to help guide someone’s career, consider the following:
1. Enter with a plan. Before you can identify a potential mentor or mentee, think about what you hope to get from the relationship. Are there particular skills you want to build? Is there some aspect of your field you’re interested in learning more about?
For the mentee, the answers can be more obvious. As a mentor, remember there will be times during your conversations that you’ll find yourself being mentored. It’s just as important to decide what you want to get out of this relationship before you assume such a mantle as advisor.
2. Read the room. People, as they say, inspire you or drain you. In other words, pick wisely when deciding whom to associate with when it comes to mentorship. Chances are, a little of that person will rub off on you — including his or her reputation.
Choose someone respected by other colleagues. In a mentor, you want someone you can look up to. In a mentee, you want someone that doesn’t leave people wondering why you decided to take that person under your wing.
3. Don’t neglect chemistry. No matter how perfect a mentor or mentee appears on paper, the relationship won’t be a productive one if you don’t have a good rapport with the other person. You must be compatible on a professional and personal level to make a worthwhile connection.
Set up a time to grab coffee, and use it as a test run. During your discussion, check your gut — it’ll rarely betray you. If you feel like you’re hitting it off, schedule another coffee to talk. With time, an informal mentoring relationship can gradually develop into a more formal one.
4. Set an agenda. Time is valuable — it’s also money, but that’s a story for a different day. If you’ve entered into a more formal mentor-mentee relationship, always come to the table with an agenda of what you’d like to discuss.
In most mentoring relationships, it’s up to the mentee to decide what’s on the docket for the day. Email one another a day or two before a session to not only confirm the date, but also decide what the conversation will entail. After your discussion, walk away with what you hope to accomplish next time.
5. Get to know one another. Oftentimes, candid conversations are the lifeblood to any good mentor-mentee relationship. But that won’t be possible until you take the time to open up and really get to know one another.
Learn as much as you can about the other person. Start off by asking questions about his or her career and background, and then move on to more personal topics as you get further into the relationship.
6. Prepare to learn — and teach a little, too. Remember when we said mentoring was a two-way street? As a mentee, never sit silently and nod at everything your mentor tells you. Try to be an active listener. Ask follow-up questions and offer your own insights where they might seem useful.
For mentors, don’t just extoll an endless stream of advice. Shoot for an actual, real-life conversation with your mentee, and make yourself open to what this person could teach you. It’s likely been a while since you’ve been in his or her shoes, so ask for input on some of your struggles. You’d be surprised at what you might learn.
No matter which side of the coin you’re on, showing a hunger to either learn or inform will draw people to you — like a moth to a flame. Just remember to respect each other’s time and opinions, and you’ll develop a relationship that’s mutually beneficial.