How Do I Utilize My Mentor?

Now that you have found a mentor, how do you make the best use of this relationship? Ideally, you’ve picked someone who can assist you with a very specific aspect of your career as opposed to having sought out a life guru who you’re tapping for overall inspiration. You’ll get out of a mentoring relationship as much as you put into it, so here are a few things to consider as you move forward with your mentor.

How often should you meet?

How frequently you’ll meet your mentor depends on what type of help they’re providing and also what your schedule allows. Regularly scheduled meetings can keep a relationship on track, but you may have things come up that require your mentor’s immediate insight. The most important aspect of setting a meeting frequency is that expectations are transparently communicated and agreed on by both parties. Without setting meeting frequency ground rules from the beginning, you run the risk of your mentor feeling either overextended or underutilized.

A good way to bring this up can be to, again, focus on a specific project or outcome and negotiate around that topic. “I’m hoping to attend three professional conferences this year to expand my network and brush up on my programming skills. Could we meet a couple of times over the summer to discuss this? I have a list of several I’m looking at but would love to know which you would recommend or might also be attending.”

This type of a tee up does a few things for you. First, it outlines your narrow goal and also shows that you’re willing to do some legwork—not all of the success of the outcome is hinging on your mentor coming up with things for you to do. Second, it sets a general time frame (over the summer) that your mentor can more easily agree to. Lastly, you’ve laid out your specific ask, which includes their opinion on the value of the conferences you’ve selected, along with a soft-ask to potentially join them. Structuring a meeting frequency proposal similar to this ensures you are both on the same page with expectations and how to move forward!

What can they help you with?

What you’re looking for from a mentor can be an iterative process, where you collectively brainstorm over the best ways to leverage their expertise as well as contribute to your goals. Here are a couple of possible avenues:

  • Introductions: Leveraging your mentor’s relationships with other professionals is a great way to gain insight on a new industry or company. You’ll want to be careful that your mentor doesn’t feel as though you’re abusing their network, but most would be happy to broker introductions to people you’re interested in meeting.
  • Learning opportunities: Brushing up on skills and adding a few new business cards to your stack are just some of the benefits of attending conferences or industry events. Pulse your mentor for events that they regularly attend, and as a bonus, ask if you might be able to join them!
  • Workplace dynamics support: Keeping frustrations in check at the office or finding your voice in difficult management situations are things we’ve all dealt with. A mentor can be a great place to constructively discuss ways you can tackle these challenges and inspire you to be courageous in crucial conversations.
  • Work life balance: Mentors are great sounding boards for getting perspective on balancing our personal and professional commitments. Time management, organization systems, and how they manage to contribute to other areas like family, friends, and volunteer goals are all good topics of conversation.
  • Resources for growth: A mentor whose technical or functional skills you admire can be a great person to recommend current publications and books that will keep you on top of your game, as well as any professional associations or certifications you might want to consider.
  • Innovating new ideas: Some people have a knack for brainstorming or facilitating idea conversations even when they’re not an expert in the field. If you’re looking for help to innovate some new work solutions, consider tapping a mentor from your academic circles. They’re often able to think of things in a structured way and approach problems as teaching moments.
  • Dress rehearsals: Have a big presentation, ready to negotiate your compensation, or interview for a new gig? Holding a “dress rehearsal” with your mentor is another good way to get honest constructive feedback from someone with no stake in the game.
  • Refining emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is a key component of leadership and succeeding in the workplace. Polishing these skills are just as important as any others, and a mentor can assist you in refining your approach to contentious situations, help you sharpen your social skills, or assist you in reflecting on some of the non-verbal and body language vibes you give off.
  • Sourcing new opportunities: If you’re considering a new job opportunity, your mentor can thoughtfully and objectively help you weigh the pros and cons of taking on a new role. Here, you probably benefit most if your mentor is familiar with both your current work and company as well some idea of what you’d be moving on to.

How can you give back?

Mentoring isn’t always a one-way street! You’ll, of course, be regularly expressing your gratitude for your mentor’s time and efforts, but also think about unique ways to give back. Is there a cause your mentor cares about or a skill you could help them with? For example, maybe your mentor’s favorite volunteer cause is looking for extra hands for a fundraising event. Offering to assist not only gives you face-to-face time with her, but also serves to deepen your relationship and build trust.

Staying attuned to what’s going on in their world makes you a responsible and responsive mentee, which is not just great to do anyway, but will of course make them more inclined to keep helping you! One of the ways we like to stay both thoughtful and at the top of mind of our mentors is to regularly email them articles that we know would be of shared interest or make for a great topic of discussion when we see them next. It’s thoughtful, takes two seconds, and makes you look uber-prepared and professional.

Mentoring relationships are successful when they are centered on a discrete objective and when the agreement to remain in a relationship is refreshed over time. You’ll likely start to see if your mentor is wiling to engage in a more long-term mentoring relationship which will probably develop organically as you keep meeting. That said, revisiting the initial terms of your proposal makes you look professional and honors your contact’s time if their own commitments and schedule has changed.

What coaching do you use a mentor for? How do you manage that relationship?

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