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Having a good mentor is a valuable asset. You have someone in your corner, giving you advice when you need it and helping you in your career development. But a mentor-mentee relationship isn’t as easy as you think. Both parties are responsible for making a strong mentorship relationship and there are some things mentees can do to make it work.
1. Be Committed to the Mentoring Relationship
It’s one thing to flake out on your friends, but abusing the time of your mentor is a completely different level. Set up a time that works best for both of you and don’t cancel unless it’s an emergency. If at the last minute you can’t meet in person, consider a phone call or video chat.
If you can’t prove your commitment or are too busy to follow-up after meeting, your mentor won’t be committed either. It’s not worth your time and effort — or theirs — if you’re not committed to the cause. Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Someone is giving you thoughtful and honest counsel to help you on your career path. It’s a good idea to use this direction in your favor.
2. Have Specific Goals and Realistic Expectations
Saying “I need a mentor” sounds a lot like “I need to eat.” You know you need something, but aren’t sure what to have.
Instead of saying “I need to eat,” think “I need to eat a rice bowl.” Have a clear and defined idea of what you want out of your meal — and your mentorship. Instead of “I need a mentor,” great mentees think “I need someone who can support me in my professional goals, making actionable plans and providing specific advice for my needs.”
Saying you need a mentor is a lot different than finding a mentor that’s the best fit for your needs. Whether you have small goals like learning a new skill, or long-term one like getting a new job, this can help you figure out the right mentor for you.
3. Stay Humble
A great mentor isn’t going to be a non-stop cheerleader or treat you like a celebrity. Many times, they’re going to critique and challenge you out of your comfort zone. This isn’t to hurt you; it’s to humble you.
Keep a steady level of humility and avoid getting too far up in the clouds. Confidence is important, but successful mentees listen when their mentor speaks. Use your mentor’s words to improve and make a better version of yourself.
4. Come With a Plan
If you meet your mentor for the first time without questions or comments, it might be the last time you meet your mentor.
What are you looking to accomplish? What roadblocks are you running into? Have a set of specific questions and concerns about your path when you talk to your mentor. They will appreciate the drive, determination, and direction — even if that path changes during the course of your mentorship.
With that said, it’s OK to challenge your mentor. If you don’t understand or agree with something, let them know. Blindly accepting direction isn’t going to help you or them. While a mentor is there to give you a boost, you need to make sure it’s the right move. If you’re uncomfortable with the suggestions, ask yourself what about them makes you uneasy. For instance, do you understand what your mentor is asking? Do you know how to execute the tasks at hand? Are you afraid of taking charge?
Your mentor isn’t a mind reader. It’s your job to help them understand you. Answer questions clearly and if you don’t have answers, find a way to get them.
5. Use Your Time Wisely
If your mentor agrees to mentorship, it doesn’t mean they have an infinite amount of time to do so. Use the time your given, but don’t take advantage. Chances are your mentor is a good time manager, but also a busy person. If you get 30 minutes every week or every other week, don’t waste it. In between, when you’re sending texts and emails, keep them clear and concise.
Also, understand your mentor’s boundaries. You may not be able to call or text on off-hours or weekends. They may not respond to your emails as soon as you’d like. Unless you’re told otherwise, don’t contact them with one-off questions or minimal concerns that aren’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. If your information is time-sensitive, make sure they’re aware of the issue and be cognizant of their time.
Likewise, if your mentor gives you tasks and deadlines, make sure to meet them on time and even ahead of schedule.
6. Level Up
Your mentor doesn’t have to be the same person forever. In fact, if you need a specific mentor to accomplish a short-term goal, they won’t be around forever. You may also grow out of your mentor, adjusting your needs as you continue to grow.
If you aren’t already in a formal mentoring program, don’t be afraid to create an exit plan. This can be if you love or hate your mentor. Once you’ve hit your milestones or you realize you don’t jive well, it might be time to part. Use this time to figure out what you’d like in your next mentor and what you need to do to be a good mentee for them.