When navigating your career, there are very few things that are more helpful than a solid mentor. As someone you admire, respect, and trust, this person exists to provide sound advice and guidance to help you advance in your profession.
Yes, a mentor can be a great benefit to you. But, that doesn’t mean you just need to find the perfect person and then kick up your feet and watch the magic happen. There’s an investment of time, energy, and effort that needs to happen on your end too—which is exactly what today’s “Dear Kat” question covers:
Dear Kat, I’ve recently found someone amazing who’s willing to be a mentor to me. I’ve never had a mentor before, and I want to make sure I really leverage this person’s level of experience and knowledge as best as I can. Do you have any tips for making the most of a mentor relationship—without taking advantage?
First of all, kudos to you for recognizing that you’ve been granted an awesome opportunity here and that it deserves some thought and effort. It’s great that you’re willing to put the elbow grease in and get all that you can out of the relationship.
When it comes to squeezing every last drop of goodness out of this situation, here are a few things I recommend.
1. Find Someone You Mesh With
Considering you’ve already found someone to take you under their wing, this piece will be less of a concern to you. But, I included it for any people who are just getting started and haven’t yet found a mentor for themselves.
Remember, your mentor is someone you’re going to be sharing your thoughts, your successes, and your challenges with. They need to be someone you trust—but, ideally, they should also be someone you click with. If you genuinely enjoy your conversations and spending time together, it’ll make things that much better (not to mention easier) for you. So, don’t base a mentor selection off of experience or accolades alone—you also want to find someone you gel with personally.
Speaking of experience, far too many people fall into the trap of seeking a mentor that’s an obvious fit. If they work in marketing, they should find an experienced marketer as a mentor, for example.
However, things don’t always need to be so black and white. A better place to start is by analyzing your weaknesses. In what areas do you really struggle? Perhaps you’re aiming to become a better communicator. That means you’d want to center your mentor search on finding someone with excellent communication skills—and not be so concerned with title or industry. Believe me, that’s not the be-all and end-all.
2. Prepare to Meet Regularly
Here’s something that’s important for you to realize: Simply having a mentor won’t result in payoff for you. You’re going to need to put in some work—including meeting with your mentor (whether by phone, video conference, or in-person) on a regular basis.
In order to really benefit you, your mentor needs to be in the loop on your existing goals and challenges. And, while in today’s busy world you might think a quick email here and there will suffice, it’s simply not the same thing.
So, if you’re serious about making the most of your relationship with your mentor, make sure you carve out the necessary time for regular conversations.
3. Come Armed With Goals
Your mentor exists to help you better yourself and your career, right? But, ask yourself this: How can they help you do that if they’re totally in the dark about what you’re aiming to achieve?
In your first meeting with your mentor, the two of you should sit down to map out some big things you’re hoping to accomplish in the next year or so. Whether it’s securing a promotion, speaking at a large industry event, or making a major career change, make sure that you’re both on the same page about what you’re working toward.
That way, your mentor will be prepared to give you appropriate and relevant guidance that can actually push you in the right direction.
4. Remember It’s a Two-Way Street
In a mentor relationship, it’s easy to assume that one person should be doing all of the giving while the other does all of the taking. After all, it’s the mentor’s responsibility to make sure you’re getting everything you deserve out of the deal, right?
Definitely not. Even if you’re the mentee, this relationship is a two-way street, and you need to treat it as such.
In addition to treating the commitment seriously and putting in any work your mentor requests of you, you should also keep your eyes peeled for any ways you can help your mentor in return. Whether it’s providing some help or advice in an area where you’re an expert or offering to introduce your mentor to one of your contacts, do what you can to send the message that you’re willing to return the favor.
5. Be Gracious
Perhaps you don’t have anything of value to offer your mentor at the moment. But, there’s always one thing you can be sure to do: Show your appreciation for his or her help.
Send a handwritten thank you note when your mentor guides you through something challenging. Buy his or her coffee the next time the two of you meet up. And, always end each sit-down by genuinely thanking your mentor for spending that time with you.
Believe me, a little display of gratitude can go a long way.
Yes, a mentor can be a great benefit to you both professionally and personally, as long as you’re willing to put some work into the relationship. Put these five key tips to work for you, and you’re sure to make the most of your mentor—without ever taking advantage, of course.