Building a Strong Mentor-Mentee Relationship

My mentor has been an important part of my professional life and, over the years, a trusted friend, confidante and adviser in many aspects of my life. She’s given me opportunities to earn experience in areas of public relations that I might not otherwise have had and is always ready with advice if I ask. If I don’t need advice, she’ll just listen.

We met when I volunteered for a nonprofit organization as an undergrad where she was serving as the communications director. We had a chance to work together on maybe a project or two before she left. I continued to volunteer for the organization and frequently asked my mentor for her advice on projects.

It wasn’t long before she asked me to help her with a client project – doing some basic media relations work. That was 8 years ago.

I am not exaggerating when I say that my career would not be where it is without her guidance and advice (and trust!). I’m a better person and a better PR professional because she’s in my life.

I think I’m pretty lucky. But how did I build this relationship and how can you seek out and develop one that works for you? I also asked my twitter network. I’ve noted their advice with a twitter ID after each point.

Being a mentee.

Being a “good” mentee has to be a part of figuring out a mentoring relationship. From the very beginning, think about this relationship as two-way. As a mentee, you have responsibilities:

  • Know yourself. Know what you’re looking for in a mentor and can identify the qualities that you want to grow in your own life. Think about your values and priorities. For example, for me a mentor without the same family-focus that I have would’ve been a problem. I need someone who understands, and encourages, work-life balance (mostly because I can forget the “life” part). (@AmandaJones)
  • Talk about your goals. Being clear about your goals and aspirations will help your mentor be clear about what you expect. (@sarahannelilly)
  • Do outstanding work and be enthusiastic. It’s rewarding to mentor someone who is learning and growing and doing work that you can both be proud of. If you’re seeking career guidance, show that you’re actively working toward those goals and making progress. (@krhodey)
  • Listen. Listen to what your mentor has to say. Only you can make the right decision for you, but good advice is valuable. Showing that you’re listening can strengthen the relationship and encourage your mentor to continue sharing his or her insights and experience. (@RichBecker & @aplambeck)
  • Reciprocate. Everyone has something to offer. Figure out how you can give back to the relationship.

Finding a mentor.

  • Set some goals. Be clear to yourself about what you’re looking for in a mentor relationship. A mentor can be helpful in many ways, and often more than one mentor is necessary and appropriate.
  • Consider logistics. Do you need a mentor who works at your company? or would you like (or need) someone from outside the organization?
  • Be proactive. Just ask! I was flattered to be asked to be a mentor recently. It really only took an email and I was on board. I also recognized that she and I would be a good fit and so it was easy to say yes. (@ntindall)
  • Ask for referrals. Ask friends, your peers or family to help identify a good mentor. You may be able to extend the possibilities far beyond your own personal network.

Being a mentor

As I mentioned early on, the mentor-mentee relationship must be two-way. The mentor also has some responsibilities besides just sharing what s/he knows. Two important “duties” stand out to me. My mentors have excelled in these areas, and that has truly benefited our relationship.

Listen. Listen to what your mentee says and needs to meet his or her goals. Clearly s/he respects you and your work, but everyone has a different life path. So your path might not be the right path. (@RichBecker)

Be genuinely interested. It is flattering when you’re asked to be a mentor, but it must be more than an ego boost for you. You need to be genuinely interested in your mentee’s life and career and eager to help meet the goals he or she has set.

Setting expectations.

Women for Hire has a great list of questions to consider at the outset of mentor relationship. I don’t know that something this formal will work for everyone, but it’s worth considering these questions and determining if the answers are important to creating a functional relationship. A few of the questions worth considering:

  • How often will you meet? Before you approach your mentor, have a good idea of how much time you’d like from her. Do you need to meet once a month or once every other month?
  • Under what circumstances will you meet? Coffee shop, home, office? Morning, lunch, evening, weekends?
  • How you will stay in touch? By phone or email? Ask what is easiest for her and be willing to accommodate that.
  • Confidentiality. This is a must on both sides, especially if you work for the same company or know many of the same people professionally. You’re likely to discuss work situations and professional relationships in the course of your work together, and you must agree to keep all information just between you.
  • Honesty. If you can’t exchange ideas freely there’s no use in getting started

So what are you waiting for? Just ask! It won’t cost you more than some time and a cup of coffee and the rewards can be tremendous.

If you have (or are) a mentor, I’d love to hear your tips and stories! Please share in the comments.

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  • hillco

    Kelli,

    I’m curious what you think about the proliferation of these online mentoring platforms [GottaMentor, Mentory, etc]? Do you think the mentorship bond can form virtually as effectively as personally?

    Thanks,

    Jon
    theascendancegroup.org

  • Kelli Matthews

    Jon,

    I think they can be very effective. For a couple of reasons.

    The first reason is that if you’re in a relatively small town (like we are in Eugene, Oregon), it can be hard to find any professional connection, much less one that lines up with your career objectives. Obviously it’s important to be smart about which platform you choose, but online platforms can greatly expand your possibilities for connections.

    The second is that Millennials are very comfortable in a virtual relationship and, I would guess for most, doing so would be little difference than having someone in the same area geographically.

    Thanks for the question!

    Kelli

  • Natasha Friis Saxberg

    I agree with your answer Kelli to online mentorship communities.

    As the founder of Mentory – a global mentorship community. My goal is making it possible for everyone to experience the gift of giving as a mentor and learning as a protégé.

    We all have mentors in different areas of life, some even unconsciously. And the different mentorship relations give different output.

    E-mentoring which is primary online, allows you to be more focused on your goal, more honest and more reflective – since you do not have a physical obligation.

    On the other hand the traditional physical mentorship can be so giving because we get a close relationship that can last an entire lifetime, based on admiration rather than a goal.

    Kellis point is what most protégés/mentees experience, it can be quite difficult finding a mentor, if you want a mentor that you do not know already, or a specific person you admire for their achievements – but they live far away, and then there is the barrier of asking. This is where Mentory can help you as an introduce channel and mentorship facilitator, which also is an advantage for those who haven´t tried having a mentorship before, letting them focus on cultivating potential and achieve their goals.

  • hillco

    Here’s the truth: the traditional mentorship model is broken [one in which GottaMentor, Mentory and all of the other online mentorship platforms subscribe to]. These mentor relationships inevitably fail to meet expectations and tend to dissolve without any real progress or goal attainment. Why is that? Two reasons: 1. There are no incentives [besides the "intangible benefit" argument] that keep Mentors engaged, and 2. There is no force that sits in the middle of the Mentor-Mentee pair that helps sustain each relationship.

  • Kelli Matthews

    I appreciate your comment, but I’m uninterested in debating the merits of one platform over another. My interest is in serving students and helping them achieve their goals and build meaningful connections.

    If you represent a company that facilitates mentor-mentee connection, help my readers understand how you fit into that goal.

  • hillco

    Fair enough. I worked on Wall Street, then at a hedge fund. The one big take-away from those experiences is this: people that you would want / need as your mentor don’t have the time / energy to do it for free. With a proper incentive structure [payment] and a proper relationship structure [modules / meeting topics], you have a much greater chance of getting the right Mentor and achieving positive outcomes [i.e., landing your dream job or moving up in your career]. Unlike other platforms that are developed with the ideal that “anyone can be a mentor”, TAG subscribes to exactly the opposite view: the people that should be mentors are very difficult to engage. If you can find a way to land a great mentor yourself, congrats…you are in the small minority. If you can’t or don’t have the time / energy to keep searching, TAG can help [1] make the proper match and [2] structure the relationship so you are growing professionally from the experience. More info is available here: http://www.slideshare.net/TAGMentor/tag-presentation-1095591.

    I am not trying to use your blog as a sales platform, I just feel like readers should be given the real scoop about these virtual networks [namely, that they are as useful as a job posting board in helping your career].

  • Natasha Friis Saxberg

    From my perspective, it is not black or white. The traditional physical mentorship can still be facilitated online and be executed offline, like any other online community that provides networking such as LinkedIn, job bases etc.

    I believe that Mentory together with other services will make e-mentoring evolve and reshape into mentorship 2.0 – online, open and participatory.

    Well this is my truth – not necessary the whole truth – but a tiny perspective that adds colour between black and white.

  • Kelli Matthews

    I appreciate the perspective you both offer. While this was not the conversation I had in mind for this post, I know as well as anyone that I don’t get to control that.

    I’m sure my readers appreciate the insights and options that you both offer for developing mentor relationships. Thank you for weighing in.

  • @atlanta978

    In reading this post, I immediately became inspired at the thought of having a mentor that could share insight into the blustery world of public relations or advise on proper steps to make in becoming a more informed professional.

    Then, however, I remembered my own experience in trying to attain a mentor. I requested to be enrolled in PRSA mentor matching program, only for them to tell me it is not currently functional. It was my responsibility.

    Then I reached out to a few industry insiders, that after a significant amount of emails, only delivered an obligatory apology and advised me to search for someone with a little more time.

    It does, to some extent, seem that many of the accomplished pro’s out there simply do not have the time to cultivate a mentor/mentee relationship. As a recent graduate, I feel a little let down by it. I do though follow the awesome Twitter of @kmatthews, and a few others, that provide key insights that some might consider an e-mentorship.

    I do not think monetary gain should be an incentive, but purely the knowledge that you helped inspire the next generation of industry leaders. Be flattered that you are considered to be someone worth following. :)

  • Westbound

    Kelli, this is such a great article, thanks so much for sharing your tips and advice. I have been tasked with putting together a mentorship program for PRSA Young Professionals/PRSA, and I will definitely pass this article to everyone involved in the program! You have been such a great mentor to many of your students, so its good to hear how a successful relationship comes to life.

    -Andrea

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