Have you been reluctant to find a mentor? I know it can be intimidating to approach an experienced thought leader to request a mentoring partnership! This article shares the essential information you need to know about mentoring to give you the confidence to approach it.
Mentoring is one of the key activities I recommend for professional development. Why? It fast-tracks your professional development and helps you to reach your career goals sooner! Who doesn’t want that?!
But many people are reluctant to find a mentor, usually due to a lack of confidence in approaching someone or a lack of mentoring options.
The key to success is to set expectations and boundaries of roles, establish what you want to achieve from a mentoring partnership and maintain open communication and mutual understanding.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to explore mentoring in the context of professional/career development.
The post is about how to find a mentor and essential mentoring information.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a mutually beneficial partnership between a mentor and mentee for the purposes of professional development.
Mentoring can be done individually (one-to-one), as a group (one-to-many) or as a facilitated program. It can be formal (an established partnership) or informal (the mentor may not even know the mentee!).
The Mentoring Support Network has a great definition: “Mentoring is sharing knowledge, skills, and life experience to guide another towards reaching their full potential; it is a journey of shared discovery.”
What is the role of a mentor (mentor definition)?
A mentor is a trusted advisor who shares their insights, advice, knowledge and support with others.
Mentors are usually role models or thought leaders who are well-established in a career or industry.
Mentors can play several roles to assist mentees such as coach, confidante, role model, teacher, sponsor and advisor.
Usually, the main intent of mentoring is to assist the mentee to achieve their career goals and aspirations.
What is the role of a mentee (mentee definition)?
A mentee is an individual who is advised, trained or coached by a mentor.
Mentees are committed to their professional development and learn from their mentor’s work experience.
Similar to mentoring, you can be a mentee at any stage of your career. You can be a mentee and a mentor at the same time!
This Forbes article has great information about the role of a mentee.
Why should I find a mentor?
Mentors can help fast-track your professional development as the mentee benefits from their accumulated years of experience or different set of skills or knowledge.
A mentor can help you: find a mentor:
- Solve work-related problems and make decisions
- Develop better relationships with your clients, stakeholders, colleagues and manager
- Build confidence
- Set goals and undertake career planning
- By providing feedback on your work performance and approaches
- By providing an honest assessment about the role/industry and help you to avoid pitfalls
- Introduce you to influential people and improve your networks
- Improve your communication skills
- See things from a different perspective
- Gain insights into the workings of executive and other organisational functions
- Build motivation and offer encouragement to achieve your career goals
Ultimately the benefits mentors and mentees gain from a mentoring partnership is up to the participants 🙂
Why should I become a mentor?
Becoming a mentor isn’t just for people who have been in the workforce for a long time.
If you’ve spent 5 years or less in the workforce, you’re still able to mentor others.
Giving your time to others who value your experience and wisdom is mutually beneficial, including:
- Contributing to important knowledge transfer
- Growing the capability of your profession
- Building your repetition as a thought leader in your industry
- Developing your leadership skills
- Improving your communication skills
- Gaining new and different perspectives
- Gaining new insights into the workings of other organisational functions
- Transitioning from the Learning to Returning phase of your career
Mentoring is a great way of giving back and leaving a legacy.
How to be a good mentor
While all mentoring partnerships are different, there are some basic guidelines to being a good mentor and getting the most from your mentoring partnership.
- Stay within the partnership guidelines set at the initial session (keep your mentee on track too)
- Don’t be negative or discouraging and remain objective
- Be patient and compassionate – everyone is on their own career journey
- Share knowledge freely
- Provide honest and constructive feedback
- Let the mentee drive the sessions
- Focus on coaching your mentee, not advising
- Celebrate your mentee’s achievements
- Be engaged and show interest, even if you consider the topics/conversation too basic
- Always practice good communication
- Be open and honest about your achievements and acknowledge your mistakes
Mentoring is a skill like all others. It can take practice and trial and error to become a good mentor.
How to be a good mentee
Like mentors, there are some basic standards to being a good mentee and getting the most from your mentoring partnership. Find a mentor.
- Respect your mentor’s time – it’s likely they’re an extremely busy person!
- Be proactive – the mentee needs to establish the mentoring partnership
- Thank your mentor and express your gratitude for sharing their time and wisdom
- Value the wisdom you’ve received and be committed to your professional development
- Always complete any assignments/tasks in a timely manner
- Be engaged, show interest and willingness to learn
- Be open to constructive feedback
- Don’t be afraid to question or disagree with your mentor (but do it respectfully!)
Remember, it’s up to the mentee to take the initiative to drive the mentoring partnership. Most mentoring partnerships fizzle out because the mentee fails to follow up.
When to find a mentor
Don’t be too concerned about when to find a mentor! Mentors can be beneficial at any point in your career.
I always recommend mentoring to individuals who are just starting out their career, particularly mentors from the same workplace. This can help the new employee learn how to navigate the unique culture, procedures and politics of the organisation, as well as building skills and knowledge critical to the role.
I also recommend mentoring to professionals mid-career, particularly those who are having difficulties making a leap to the next phase of their career. A job promotion from senior practitioner to team leader, or from team leader to intermediate or senior manager can be sticking points for some. Since mentors have usually been there before, it’s a really effective strategy to help you achieve your next career goal.
There’s no wrong time to start a mentoring partnership and there’s no wrong number of mentors to have!
Where to find a mentor
Firstly consider your mentoring needs and what you want to achieve. This will help you determine who to approach and where to find a mentor.
Check if your organisation or professional association has an existing mentoring program. If yes, I highly recommend you take up this opportunity. A facilitated program will make it much easier to establish a mentoring partnership.
If you don’t have access to a mentoring program, start by creating a list of role modules and people you admire professionally. They may or may not be employed at the same organisation as you.
Research thought leaders in your profession or industry. Some ways to do this include a Google or LinkedIn search, asking your manager or colleagues, or connecting with a professional association. Be sure to enlist the help of others and draw on your networks!
Are you ready to reach out to someone to request an initial meeting? Below is an example of how to ask someone to be your mentor.
Questions to ask a mentor
Firstly, it’s important to establish the perimeters of a mentoring partnership. You may which to discuss how many times to meet and when, the expectations of each participant and goals.
Here are some suggested questions to ask a mentor, but don’t limit yourself to the questions below! The questions you ask and the discussions you have with your mentor should be as unique as the partnership and focussed on the unique aims of the partnership.
- My current career goal is XYZ, what are the main 3 capabilities (job-specific or transferable) I need to build right now to achieve this goal?
- Are there any gaps in my knowledge or education to succeed in this industry/profession?
- Should I consider specialising?
- What are the best strategies to build XYZ capability?
- What steps should I include in my career action plan to achieve my career goal?
- What do you think are the major challenges our industry is currently facing?
- How can I future-proof my career?
- What changes do you think our industry will undergo in the next 5 years?
- What skills are going to be important in the future for our profession?
- What are the major projects/initiatives in our industry/organisation I should be aware of?
- What has been your experience with XYZ?
- What do you consider your biggest achievement in this industry/profession?
- What is the one action you’ve taken which has had the biggest positive impact on your career?
- If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you would have done to advance your career that you didn’t do?
- Would you have made any changes to your career path upon reflection?
Again, these are just thought-starters! Be sure not to ‘quiz’ your mentor too much during your conversations and allow the discussion to flow naturally.
Mentoring pitfalls to avoid
The mentoring partnership is not mutually beneficial
One of the biggest misconceptions about mentoring is the only intent of the partnership is for the mentor to pass on knowledge to the mentee to advance their career.
This is not the case! There is an expectation the mentee will also contribute to the partnership as well (that’s why it’s called a partnership!).
This will look differently in every mentoring relationship. Some examples of a mentee giving back include providing the mentor with feedback regarding their coaching or leadership skills or providing an alternative view to new organisational missions, strategies or change from the employee perspective.
At the start of the mentoring relationship, establish the expectations and boundaries, including what each participant wants to achieve, to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial.
The mentoring partnership fizzles out
It’s common practice for the onus to be on the mentee to drive the mentoring partnership forward.
This includes reaching out for an initial meeting, setting dates for subsequent meetings and following up on any assignments or actions the participants might have agreed to.
As with all professional development activities, it’s important for the individual to be proactive and take ownership. Mentoring is no exception.
Not ending the mentoring partnership at a natural stopping point
Each mentoring partnership will be of different duration.
With most mentoring partnership, one or all participants may come to the point where they feel they have achieved all they can and there’s no benefit to continuing with the arrangement.
It’s perfectly okay to end a mentoring partnership when this occurs.
There’s no set length for a mentoring partnership. It may last for one session or for the lifetime of a career.
If you’re yet to find a mentor, I highly recommend you add it to your career action plan for 2022!
Mentoring is a great way to fast-track your professional development and helps you to reach your career goals sooner!
A mentoring partnership is a highly effective career development strategy which is recommended to everyone, regardless of where an individual may be in their career journey.
The post was about how to find a mentor and essential mentoring information
Hi there, I'm Danielle Ward
Your go-to career development and human resource practitioner, guiding your career towards true north.
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