It’s not hard to see why people seek mentors at all stages of their career (think greater earning power and more professional success). But a lot depends on the mentee. Fast Company found out how to maximize your time with a mentor.
While it’s often assumed that mentors drive the progress–thanks to the career expertise and networking muscle–the mentee must hold up their end of the relationship. The first way to do this is by chucking the notion that they are imposing on their mentor by having a clear agenda.
On the contrary, says Korngold, “I felt an imposition that she hadn’t prepared. I think its the mentee’s responsibility to do their homework to understand the background, expertise, and value of the mentor, and ask for what they need.”
It’s not hard to see why people at any stage of their career seek mentorship. After education, it’s the second most important factor in determining a person’s professional success, according to executive recruiting firm Korn/Ferry International.
That said, here are six ways to prepare to make the most of your mentor/mentee relationship:
- Make a Dedicated Effort Before You Start: Don’t expect benefits to be spoon-fed by your mentor, says freelance writer and coach Stephanie Auteri. A dedicated autodidact, Auteri says, “I’ve done post-college internships, read a shit-ton of freelance writing blogs, a slew of writing/business books, taken continuing education courses, sought out informational interviews, etc., all in the pursuit of readying myself for the freelance life. I’m still self-educating.”Nevertheless, Auteri’s been on the receiving end of an avalanche of email from beginners who simply want all the answers. “Some even go so far as to ask me to share hard-won contact info despite the fact that I barely know them,” she chafes. Her advice: “Be prepared and eager to learn.”
- Know Who You Are and What You Want: Korngold says the learning process should start with the mentee finding out as much as they can about their mentor. But they also need to analyze what they are trying to accomplish with their advisor. She suggests thinking in categories such as increasing professional networks, guidance, and/or introductions to others.
- Be Open to Learning Unexpected Lessons: When Sean Lane was a Venture for America fellow, he was exposed to a wide variety of speakers, trainers, and mentors during the five-week training camp. That meant a lot of wisdom, some of which fell outside his communications study area. Trying to “be a sponge” helped in unexpected way. After attending Manhattan Prep, Chris Ryan’s two-day business crash course, Lane says, “I was able to build my own valuation model,” coupled with advice he’ll be taking to his work at Swipely. “Being open to learning new material and having someone willing to teach it made that end result possible.”
- Abandon the Ego: Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade and Uncertainty, says too many mentees look for mentors as a source of validation, rather than actual knowledge. “This happens at every level of business, but it’s especially apparent in the startup world, where entrepreneurs often become overly attached to a particular solution, rather than the desire to serve a community,” he says. “A mentor’s role is to provoke insight, not stroke ego,” Fields says.
- Don’t Forget Your Manners: It’s important to remember that giving back is grounded in generosity, and
should be appropriately acknowledged, says Auteri. “Know that your mentor is taking precious time out of his or
her busy day to help you, so be on time for meetings and phone calls,” she says.
- Don’t Wait For Permission: The thing that derails most mentees, according to Erika Napoletano, is the ongoing need for guidance. “We can help you unearth what’s next, but our job isn’t to tell you step-by-step how to get it done,” says the author of Power of the Unpopular. If mentees feel the need to get permission to proceed, the relationship is destined to fail, she says. “Waiting on your mentor to tell you it’s OK to be kickass is the least kickass act possible. Go be kickass. Report back. We’ll be there to help you navigate the waters.”