A lot has been written about how to be a good mentor or coach and how to provide the support and guidance a mentee needs. How to be a good mentee is rarely discussed in as much detail. Here we address how to make the most of the mentee experience.
How to pick a coach or mentor
Not all mentoring programs enable the mentee to choose their own mentor. However, if you are not using a program and are instead looking to approach someone yourself, choose wisely:
- Consider a potential mentor’s personal as well as professional attributes.
- Remember that your mentor does not need to be just like you – your mentor is there to show you how to fill the gaps in your knowledge and experience.
- Don’t feel that you have to limit yourself to just one mentor – seek out a number of possible mentors with a range of different experiences.
- Remember that your mentor does not have to sit in the corner office; someone can provide great support and guidance without having an executive position.
How to make the most of the mentee experience
- Be upfront about you are looking for: are you after long-term guidance? Help with a one-off decision? Assistance in addressing a particular issue or developing a particular area? Or are you hoping to find someone who can act as a sponsor and a connector?
- Steer the process: Although it is appropriate for the mentor to take the lead initially, the overall mentoring experience will benefit from the mentee having a clear direction. Prepare what you would like to address before your meetings with the mentor. Be candid and recognise that you do not need to be shy – be authentic to get authentic.
- Be respectful of your mentor’s time: at its most basic this just means be polite – be on time and be mindful of their boundaries. But it also includes giving them enough time to review any work or material you send them before meeting up, and developing an agenda for meetings before-time and sticking to it. It also involves being flexible with your own time.
- Be appreciative: remember that while there is plenty of value for a mentor in the mentoring process, they are not being formally reimbursed. Acknowledge the time and effort they are committing to you.
- Follow through on advice: this doesn’t mean you have to do everything your mentor suggests, but do consider and evaluate their advice in full, even if you ultimately decide not to follow it.
- Avoid complaining: badmouthing colleagues and your workplace is generally not a good move – this is especially important if you and your mentor work in the same organisation, or even the same industry. However, this does not mean that if you have a genuine grievance or concern that you need advice on you should keep it to yourself – a mentor may be the perfect outside third party who can give you clear advice. Just be mindful of how you phrase it and consider keeping it anonymous if that is possible.
- Know when it’s time to move on: not all mentorships will last indefinitely. Some may endure, through a combination of continued career relevance and good personal chemistry. Often mentorships will end following a change in career focus or a lack of personal connection. Don’t simply disappear – make sure to thank your mentor for their time and let them know how – if – they have helped you.