Having a mentor can really make a difference to your career – they can guide you, take you under their wing and teach you new skills.
Mentoring arrangements are most successful when both parties take an active role in developing the relationship. The process needs careful management to ensure everyone involved gets the most out of the opportunity.
Here are our top tips for developing a good working relationship:
Establish your goals
Discuss what you want from the arrangement and what you are going to do to make it a success, agreeing on a common approach. Review these goals from time to time; if the relationship is not working, adjust it and refocus.
Let your mentor know who you are
Share your hopes, fears, ideas and goals openly, and let give your mentor a good sense of your life as well as your professional goals. They will then be able to put your situation in perspective.
Talk to your mentor to determine the lines of communication that will work for both of you. Will you meet face to face, by video call or telephone?
You should also set a schedule for your meetings. Generally, meeting every two to four weeks is best, but you should decide what is most suitable for you.
Come to the conversation with a good idea of what you would like to focus on during each session. Be ready to give a brief update on recent progress and developments.
You might even email your mentor your thoughts about what you would like to focus on before each meeting, so you can draw up an agenda between you.
Mentoring takes time and demands sacrifices from both the person being mentored and the mentor themselves. If you have committed to act as a result of the mentoring session, make sure you take this action. It is discouraging for the mentor if you have made commitments that you then do not act on.
Vary the activities
There are numerous activities you can do with your mentor, such as talking about your experiences, goals and plans, looking at the skills you are developing or want to develop, planning for meetings or events, or discussing documents you have prepared.
Set the agenda in a way that is of most value for you. You are responsible for ensuring that the conversation meets your needs. Don’t be shy about asking your mentor questions, such as “What was that like for you?” or “How did you feel at the time?” Ask a question or two at the start of each session to get to know about their experiences.
Listen, observe, learn
Pay attention to the skills your mentor demonstrates – for instance, listening, guidance or coaching – as you can learn not just from what they are telling you but how they communicate.
It can be difficult to remember key points and commitments after the meeting. Keep a notebook and jot down ideas and insights both during and between sessions. You should also list any agreed actions so you have them all in one place.
Over the course of your relationship with your mentor, you may find that some tactics work better than others. If something isn’t working – whether it’s your mentor going off on tangents or if you want to meet more often – speak up. You should let your mentor know when things work well too, so they know what to offer.