Career Development - Mentee Guide
Skills for Successful Mentees
Typically in a mentoring relationship, much discussion and thought is spent on determining the skills of the mentor. In addition, there are skills that mentees need in order to be successful.
What skills do you think might be helpful to you as a mentee?
The basis of a mentoring relationship is imparting information from one person to another. Left to chance, a mentee will get the information, advice, or guidance that the mentor wants to give, or thinks is helpful, which may be enough in many cases. However, since the relationship is primarily for the mentee's benefit, being able to ask for what you want, need, and are curious about is an important skill for mentees. High quality questions can help you get what you really want from your mentor and make the best use of the time you spend with him or her.
Journalists have long known the key questions to ask: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? Using these questions as a guide to developing inquiries for your mentor, you can begin to build productive questions.
You have been given a lead from your mentor about an opportunity to serve on a committee that you would love to be involved in. Using a journalist's questions, write down at least three quality questions to ask your mentor.
All the best questions in the world are useless unless you can actively listen for the information that will be helpful to you. Here are four points to bear in mind to help you listen.
Listen for central ideas. Listen for ideas that your mentor repeats and provides examples of. Typically, when an idea or concept is core to us, we will repeat and expound upon it to ensure another person understands us.
Determine what is of personal value to you in your mentor's conversation. Once you've identified the central idea, consider how it applies to you. This will help reinforce the learning, since you can now better identify with your mentor's message.
Identify and eliminate as many of your "trigger" words as possible. Almost everyone has certain words that cause an emotional reaction. These emotional reactions can cause us to get off track in our listening and our thinking. To combat these reactions, become familiar with your trigger words. Keep track of your next few conversations to see what words or phrases trigger an emotional reaction in you. Give some thought as to why those words trigger those reactions. Once you've identified those words and phrases, you can be more conscious when you hear them, and you'll find it easier to maintain attention and concentration when you do.
Learn to keep pace--speed of thought vs. speed of speech. Most people can think five to six times faster than another person can talk. Regardless of how interested we are in the speaker, this difference in pace of thought and speech often results in daydreaming or mind-wandering on the part of the listener. Give some thought to things you can do to stay engaged when your mind starts to wander.
A mentoring relationship is based on trust. As a mentee, you are placing a great deal of trust in your mentor to provide you with helpful guidance. At the same time, mentors are trusting that mentees will not take advantage of the relationship (e.g., wasting your mentor's time, repeating information not intended for others, asking for favors, inappropriately using the relationship). Building trust can take time; our behaviors can accelerate the time it takes. Give some thought about what behaviors can help you quickly establish trust with your mentor.
Finding Your Comfort Zone
Many mentoring relationships will pair a mentee with a high-level or prominent leader. Research has shown that these relationships are sometimes slow to develop because the mentee is often uncomfortable with their mentor. This discomfort can come from a variety of factors. Mentees reported that they were afraid to make mistakes or appear vulnerable in front of their mentors; they had trouble viewing their mentors as partners and they considered their own problems and needs as insignificant.
A reluctant or hesitant mentee can be frustrating to a mentor, particularly a mentor who is high-level or prominent, so it's important that you develop techniques to become comfortable early on in your mentoring relationship.
How would you find your comfort zone with a high-level or prominent leader?
Most of us can become more comfortable in any situation by being prepared. What are some ways you can prepare for your mentoring relationship? Some ideas include:
Having a written list of questions before each meeting.
Preparing a concrete set of goals and objectives for your mentoring relationship.
Visualizing conversations between your mentor and you as if you've known him or her for a long time.
Researching your mentor's background.
Preparing conversation points.
In any relationship, at times there are disagreements or misunderstandings, and a mentoring relationship is no different. Keeping in mind that mentoring relationships are partnerships, it's important to accept that you have a right to express yourself when you want to make adjustments to the mentoring relationship. However, it's just as important to make sure that you resolve differences appropriately, professionally, and respectfully. Some examples of differences that might crop up in a mentoring relationship include:
Getting advice or guidance that you don't agree with. Instead of arguing with your mentor or just ignoring the advice, approach the situation with a sense of curiosity. Ask yourself and/or your mentor questions about the advice. For example: "That suggestion doesn't feel right, but I'm not sure why," or "My situation doesn't seem quite right for that idea. Can we talk about what doesn't fit and why?"
Your mentor doesn't show up for an appointment you had scheduled and didn't call. This is another time for curiosity. Instead of saying "You missed our meeting yesterday," approach your mentor with the goal of finding out information rather than blaming. "I had put on my calendar that we were meeting yesterday, did I get confused?"
It feels like your mentor is telling you what you should do, rather than letting you rely on them for a sounding board and then solve your own problems. Often, mentors feel that giving advice is what they're supposed to do and is what is expected of them. You can help your mentor build their mentoring skills by articulating what you expect of them up front. You might say something like this: "I have a situation at work that I'd like to talk to you about. I have some ideas of how to approach it, and I'm hoping you can listen to my ideas and ask me questions to help me get to the right solution." Or at the beginning of your relationship, let your mentor know up front that you don't expect them to know all the answers, but are looking forward to having someone you can bounce ideas off of and who will help you solve your own problems.
Making the Moment(s) Count
Unless we reflect upon our experiences, we can often miss out on the gems in moments we spend with others, including our mentor. Keeping a mentoring journal is one suggestion for capturing and remembering the lessons you learn through this important relationship. After each meeting, ask yourself what you learned from the meeting and how you can apply the learning. Summarize your responses to these questions and share them with your mentor. Let your mentor give you feedback and then ask him or her--as well as yourself--if there's anything else you've learned through the meeting.
Managing a Successful Mentoring Relationship
There are certain behaviors that could be considered requirements on the part of the mentee and the mentor in a mentoring relationship. These include:
Taking initiative and risks.
Accepting each other.
Agreeing upon and working toward specific goals.
Dealing effectively with unmet expectations or objectives.
Key Factors in Building an Effective Relationship
Research has shown that effective relationships have similar factors upon which they are built. These include:
Acceptance and flexibility.
Honesty and direct communication.
Some shared values.
Willingness to work through obstacles.
Reciprocating the Relationship--What Do You Have to Offer?
Mentors are volunteers; they do not expect to get paid. They do, however, want to receive some satisfaction from the relationship. In a recent survey, mentors listed what they hoped to receive from a mentoring relationship. One response stood out above all others. Mentors hoped to make "an important, long-lasting, positive change in another person's life, something that would help their mentees move forward into their future."
The only way that mentors can know how they're doing is if mentees tell them. What you have to offer your mentor is your appreciation and an explanation of the impact the relationship has had on your current and future success.
It's as important to talk about what your mentor wants and needs from the relationship as it is to discuss your needs as a mentee.
Get Off to a Good Start
The better your mentoring relationship starts, the better and faster you will start experiencing results. There are some ways you can ensure that you start out on the right foot.
Going through this website is a good start. Do the exercises and activities; they've been designed to help you start out well.
Prepare for your first meeting with your mentor. Think about:
Your background (how have you gotten where you are now?).
What you hope to get from the relationship.
What you have to offer.
Questions for your mentor.
Relax and enjoy the relationship. If you don't have any pressing needs at the time, ask your mentor questions about the lessons learned in his or her career.
Whether you are in a formal, informal, or situational mentoring relationship, it's important to establish norms, or guidelines, for how the relationship will work. Doing this up front can help avoid needing to resolve differences later on. Both you and your mentor should give some thought to the norms you'd like to establish, have an open discussion about them, and come to an agreement. Some questions that can lead to norms might include:
How often will you meet, and for how long each time?
How you will communicate between meetings?
Where will you meet?
What will you do if a meeting has to be canceled or rescheduled?
How will sensitive information be dealt with?
Align Your Needs with Your Mentor's Abilities
One of the most important tasks to perform in building and maintaining a productive relationship with a mentor is to be very clear with him or her about what you expect and need. Any relationship can flounder if there are unstated needs and expectations that are not being met. No mentor can meet all of your needs, and it is crucial to give a mentor the opportunity to clarify what needs he or she can meet.
As a mentee, it's up to you to explicitly articulate your expectations to your mentor and engage in a conversation about whether those needs and expectations are realistic and appropriate.
Take some time now to jot down your expectations and assumptions of your mentor. Some examples of expectations and assumptions might be:
My mentor will help me get a promotion, find a new job, etc.
My mentor will give me clear advice about what I should do in a situation.
My mentor will teach me ___skill(s).
My mentor will introduce me to _________ and_________ and _________.
Have you shared your expectations with your mentor? What was the result?
Ending the Relationship
There will come a time that you feel you no longer have needs to be met by your mentor and therefore it's time to end the relationship. Ending the mentoring relationship well is important to your continued success - first impressions and last impressions are what we remember most about others. Make your last impression a positive one.
Here are some tips to end your mentoring relationship on a positive note:
Be clear about why you want to end the relationship. If you've achieved your goals - celebrate! Let you mentor know how they have helped you, and show your appreciation.
If you're ending the relationship for other reasons, let your mentor know what the reason is. Perhaps the relationship is not moving you forward and you'd like to spend time engaging in other professional development activities.
Regardless of the reason why you'd like to end the relationship, it's important to give your mentor clear feedback about what they might do differently and what they did well.
Remember a mentoring relationship is not like a marriage or other permanent commitment; the goal is to help you move forward in your career and life goals. If this is not occurring and you do not see adjustments that can be made in the relationship to meet your goals, end it, respectfully and honestly.