I've spoken to many people who are either afraid to mentor because they think they have to be an all-knowing Yoda, or they're looking for a mentor who has all of the skills and expertise they need. The former is false, and the latter is very rare, if not impossible. The truth is: most successful young professionals have a "mini advisory board" that consists of individuals from diverse backgrounds, offering a diverse set of expertise.
I was part of mentoring programs as a kid, and those experiences led me to volunteer as a mentor for the last ten years, while offering consulting services to aid various mentoring efforts. I founded MentorMe, a cloud-based mentoring platform, because I saw an opportunity to leverage technology to automate and streamline previously onerous administrative tasks that come with running a mentoring program. Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing a relationship with a mentor.
The way many people traditionally view mentorship is outdated. Thanks to technology, we're no longer confined to our immediate network. I strongly encourage people to take advantage of social media, conferences, and other networking events to find mentors outside of their company or organization. Reach out with an introduction (a personal elevator pitch), a clear outline of your professional goals, and why you'd like to meet. Ask for a 30-minute video call or offer to take them out for coffee. Most people enjoy offering advice. It makes them feel good to give back. And you'd be surprised how many potentially great mentors have never been asked.
This could include personality traits, but also, how often you wish to communicate and what specific type of mentorship you’re seeking. Do you need coaching, networking introductions, professional advice? Figure out what makes the most sense for where you are in your career and be upfront about your expectations.
How often and by what means you connect depends on the individual. Some folks prefer email, while others like face-to-face interactions. It's important that both mentor and mentee communicate their preferences and establish expectations. I have mentors with whom I speak every few weeks, and others with whom I connect less frequently – that timeframe is based on our individual relationship, their availability, and the expectation we’ve outlined for our conversations.
It's important that every communication is not a formal request for advice. Find out what common interests/hobbies you share with your mentor and try to find ways to connect with them by sending relevant links to interesting articles or books. Another way to stay connected is to keep up with their professional accomplishments and send them a "congratulations" email or card. Thoughtfulness goes a long way in mentoring relationships, and it's important for mentees to show interest in their mentor's professional accomplishments as well. Of course, if you do reach out to ask for advice, make sure you follow up on the outcome and thank your mentor for his or her time (a thank you card never hurts!).
And as you move up in your career, don’t forget to give back. Mentoring others makes you a better person to mentor, because you understand both sides of the relationship. Find ways to offer your skills and advice to someone coming up behind you while you continue to grow professionally.
Images courtesy of Jopwell