Meaningful Mentoring 

In this post I explore what makes a good mentoring experience, and tips to pick a good Mentor. 

Originally published 20/12/2019  

Mentoring is something that is often mooted as a way to progress your career and improve your knowledge within a certain sector or discipline. 

I have had many mentoring relationships in my career, both mentoring and being the mentee, including reverse mentoring (mentoring an executive on lived experience of one or more protected characteristics) and cross-mentoring (both mentoring each other on different skills). 

But how can both Mentees and Mentor alike get the most out of a mentoring relationship? 

The first thing to consider is that this should be a mutual learning experience. Mentors do not have to be older, a higher pay grade or level, or even in the same industry. They do however need to have qualities that you as a mentee want to learn from them. With that in mind, anyone can become a Mentor, as long as they are a good listener and able to share experiences and knowledge to help the Mentee. 

Mentees need to have a willingness to learn and share experiences in order to grow. They should also feel safe enough to challenge their mentor and express their thoughts and feelings. 

The top qualities needed for both Mentors and Mentees are:

  • Great listening skills 
  • Honesty and integrity 
  • Understand what skills the Mentee is looking to gain 

Mentee tips:

When I am looking for someone to mentor me, I always ask myself – what do I want to get from this relationship, and what can I give back? Some mentoring interactions are one-off, like a CV review or interview prep, and some are longer and more formal. I also want to understand how much time I will ask of my Mentor, and I usually ask them to guide me on this. Most people are very flattered and pleased to be asked to mentor you, so don’t be afraid to ask. Try to also pick someone who may not share your gender identity, sexual orientation, be the same race or religion as you – these differing experiencing will really enhance your learning. 

The top tips for picking a good Mentor are:

  • Choose someone you admire and can learn from 
  • Don’t look for someone who is just like you – embrace mentors who are different 
  • Focus in on what you want to learn from them 
  • Understand what time commitment you want from them 

Mentor TIPS:

As a Mentor, I have been asked, but I have also approached people who have expressed that they want a Mentor, but who are sometimes not wanting to approach with a formal offer. I have also had people offer to mentor me without any encouragement from myself. This is a lovely position to be in as Mentees are often unsure and reluctant to approach someone who appears to be very busy. 

 The top tips for mentoring someone are:

  • Let them set the agenda 
  • Understand what they are working towards as short-term, and perhaps also long-term goals 
  • Understand their differences from you, and how this shapes their life rather than yours 
  • Understand what time commitments you can give 

Finally, I often tell my Mentees about a one-off mentoring experience I had as a Mentee, to illustrate the power of mentoring. 

I was interviewed for a position by two people, the second of which was someone within my current team at the time. I didn’t get the job and my second interviewer asked if he could give me feedback, but, in his words ‘It wouldn’t be pretty.’ It certainly wasn’t – in fact it was brutal. 

The feedback focused on specific errors I had made in the interview, around how I was downplaying my achievements, not explaining processes properly and not taking ownership of my projects and tasks. My Mentor then worked with me to re-work my answers, specifically drawing out my achievements and experiences to be coherent, detailed answers. 

This mentoring relationship was just one meeting, but its outputs are still felt by me today. I have consistently had positive feedback at interview, and have been offered almost every job I have interviewed for since that conversation. In short I learned how to sell myself, and that change has affected my career trajectory in a major way. 

So if you are looking to mentor, or be mentored, understand that with the right pairing the results can be startling! 

This blog was originally posted on The WOW Network.
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