The Value of Mentorships: A How-To Guide
A professional mentor-mentee relationship is a considerable investment of time, thought and energy, but the value of a successful and mutually-beneficial experience cannot be understated. The relationship between mentors and mentees is heightened in the digital age, in which there is increased access and opportunities to coach the leaders of the future.
But a few important questions must be answered. Let’s discuss.
What are the keys to a valuable mentorship experience?
A few crucial aspects form the foundation of every successful and long-lasting mentorship. In tandem, these principles create a pathway to clear, consistent communication and a mutual understanding of expectations on each side of the relationship.
The mentor-mentee experience is defined by three pillars of trust:
Each individual in a mentorship must be clear about their expectations and purpose in seeking the mentorship. This sense of clarity allows for genuine, effective conversations between the mentor and mentee.
Just as a professional job requires employees to meet certain deliverables or expectations, a successful mentorship requires some level of result — whether it be measurable or intangible. A mentor could potentially have a direct impact upon the performance of his or her mentee (measurable) or simply offer a unique perspective and enable the mentee to think about a situation in a different manner.
A valuable mentorship also is strengthened by its level and type of communication. Conversations should include discussions of career and non-career components in order to help the mentor-mentee relationship develop outside of the typical job-seeking mold. The mentor should also largely be a listener and find active ways to support the goals and aspirations of the mentee. Although regular meetings (either in-person or virtual) are necessary, both sides should also have respect for each other’s time, obligations and barriers, and be careful not to overload the communication.
How should you approach someone to be your mentor?
In many cases, the hardest part of the mentor-mentee experience is the first step: the ask. While there is not a cut-and-dry template for approaching a potential mentor, there are a few notable characteristics of the initial outreach.
The first is to be realistic with your vision of a mentor. A high-level executive at a prestigious company is unlikely to have time to engage in a mentorship, even if they might find value in one. Seek out potential mentors who you believe are future versions of yourself. While some mentorships are developed out of the blue, most are born out of similar experiences — workplaces, career arcs or educational backgrounds. These common experiences can be used to establish the relationship as they inherently offer a feeling of trust and understanding between both parties.
Secondly, be direct. Provide your potential mentor with your expectations and how they will be able to help. Are you looking for someone to help you navigate particular work scenarios or someone to help with career guidance? Are you aiming to learn a new skill? These are the types of questions you should think about when preparing your outreach.
If you need to get your foot in the door, don’t be shy to request a 15-minute conversation with your targeted mentor. If the chat goes well, consider meeting a few more times before asking them formally to be your mentor. Sometimes, a formal ask might not be necessary and the mentor-mentee relationship will be created organically and over time. Heidi Holmes, co-founder at Mentorloop, put it clearly in a LinkedIn post:
“No one wants to get married on the first date and the same goes with mentoring. It’s fine to set your sights on someone, but don’t go in all guns blazing. Instead, reach out for just a once-off piece of advice. You could offer to buy them a coffee or even just a 15-minute chat. Everyone has 15 minutes to spare to help someone and if they don’t, they aren’t going to be a viable mentor prospect.”
What should you do when your direct supervisor isn’t an acting mentor?
It presents an interesting scenario when your direct supervisor doesn’t act as a true mentor. First off, it is not a negative. In many cases, it’s actually more difficult or uneasy for a mentor to provide feedback if your work directly impacts them. Generally speaking, a supervisor’s main role is to manage day-to-day tasks and ensure goals are met, not necessarily to advocate for your professional advancement.
In looking outside your company for a mentorship, the important question to ask is, “What do I need at this stage of my career?” Find mentor candidates who you think can help you attain that vision through various means — direct outreach via email, social networking events, university alumni programs, etc. Mentors often take their positions because they want to have an impact within an industry and help shape the next generation of talents. They can be found in a multitude of ways. All you have to do is ask.
For more information about Covalent’s mentorship program and how you can help coach leaders of the future, please click here.