I push an omelet around on my plate as I try to explain to my mentor what’s holding me back on a project. It comes down to embarrassment - sometimes I’m so deeply afraid of being embarrassed, I don’t even try. My mentor has the perfect cure: she tells me the most embarrassing situation she can remember. Think Lost meets Jerry Springer, startup-style. Her story is messy. And exactly what I need to hear. My thoughts shift - This amazing person is human! If she can make real mistakes and still be so wonderful, maybe there’s a chance for me after all!
I’ve been lucky to mentor, be mentored, co-mentor, and generally just talk about work with a lot of great people in various settings. Here are a few keys to success I’ve noticed for both mentors and mentees.
What Awesome Mentors Do
Tell it like it is
- Give real, personal, unfiltered insight on what a job, company, or project was really like. Not the “we used analytics and made improvements” excerpts from the company press release, but the “I almost punched him in the face and stormed out” moments your mentee can only learn about from a real person - you.
- Think outside the box to help your mentee achieve goals or gain insight on a problem. Mentors usually have technical knowledge or experience that puts them in a position to help, even if just by planting the seed of an idea.
- Advocate for your mentee, both directly (if they suffer from impostor syndrome) and to others within the organization, company, or community. Remember, your mentee doesn’t know your entire network, so you’ll need to think of who can help your mentee rather than waiting for an introduction request.
- Let your mentee know what you do and don’t want to talk about, how often you’d like to be contacted, and through which channels. There’s no wrong answer to this, and it helps them get comfortable within your parameters so you both can get the most out of the relationship.
- Articulating how things are going to someone they respect who’s not their boss can be really meaningful for a mentee. Don’t think you need to talk the whole time to provide value.
What Awesome Mentees Do
Make meeting easy
- Use Ohours* or another tool to limit time spent on back-and-forth scheduling.
- Send calendar invitations and polite reminders before meetings.
- Write down what you hope to accomplish - what’s going on that you want to bring up?
- What interesting experience have you been hoping to hear more about from your mentor?
- Email with your mentor in advance of your session to share specifics if you can (though it’s always okay to bring something else up).
Make follow-up easy
- Take notes and remind mentors of connections they’d like to make, that book they forgot the name of but think you’d love, etc.
The keys to mentoring are ultimately simple- be genuine, and share your experiences and your goals. Mentoring relationships come in all frequencies (weekly or a few times a year), mediums (video chat or brunch), and arenas (developing specific skills or seeking a promotion). It’s up to you to find a great match and get the most out of the relationship.
*Note: I’m an advisor and obsessive avid user of Ohours.