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How to get the most out of a mentorship

Below is a really insightful guest post from Abigail who runs the blog As She Wrote. The post outlines some really great points and advice for finding and nurturing the perfect mentoring relationship in your career.

I hope this helps you out – leave a comment below if you have any questions on the topic!

As young professionals just beginning our careers, there is so much we might have questions about, need guidance on, or just want to discuss with someone who has a seasoned perspective. This is where having a mentor comes in. 

There is no doubt that having a mentor is instrumental to your career. Mentors can advise you in tricky situations, guide you in effectively communicating, help you figure out your next step, and teach you how to advocate for yourself in your careers. 

However, not all mentor-mentee relationships are created equal, and it is largely up to you to set the tone and build a relationship that can create value for you. My first experience with a mentor was when I was assigned one when just beginning my internship at the company I now work at.

I can see now that in the beginning, I did not make the most of this relationship, too focused on what I thought it should be like because I had a scripted narrative in my head of what having a mentor meant. Luckily, I have been able to continue to develop a mentor-mentee relationship with this colleague, and found it has already made an impact on my professional and personal life.

I’ve reflected on what I learned to round up some suggestions for anyone looking to build or enhance their relationship with their mentor.

Don’t ask for a mentor

This may seem like controversial advice, but I read this in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and the advice has stuck with me. She doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out opportunities to learn and get advice from those more experienced than you. Rather, she is saying don’t ask directly for a mentor; instead, ask intelligent, relevant and specific questions to someone in a senior leadership position. She writes that if the person sees potential in you and is interested in mentoring you, they will take you on, even if they aren’t formally declared “your mentor.” 

This is an important point even if you are in a formal mentorship program. Always always always come to your mentor with specific questions or situations that you are asking for guidance on. You will get so much more value out of the relationship this way than if you simply request general advice.

how to get the most out of mentorship - an image shows two women looking at a laptop

Keep in contact with regularity

A common mistake people make with their mentors is not reaching out to them as often as they should in fear that they won’t have time or don’t want to be bothered interacting with someone more junior. Granted, if you’re coming to them for general advice as opposed to pointed, thoughtful questions, they might think that!

However, if you demonstrate you are putting thought and effort into the relationship and the way you spend your time with them, your mentor will likely be happy to have regular contact with you, whether that’s a phone call or face time. In fact, not reaching out enough may come across as not really caring (and that’s the last thing you want). 

Additionally, after reaching out to enough people in the professional world, you’ll notice that most people love to talk to younger people and help them out early in their careers – and the other thing they love to talk about is themselves. Don’t make the mistake of not reaching out enough!

Know what you want from the relationship

When you think about it – knowing and being able to express what you need is key to any and every relationship, both inside and outside the office. What does this look like in a mentor-mentee relationship?

Well, firstly you need to understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. I want to share with you this graphic, created by Stanford University, that explains the difference better than I could: 

image depicts a graphic detailing difference between mentorship and sponsorship

In short, mentors are great for advice and feedback, but it is sponsors who will give you a direct leg up in your company or your career. It is important to flesh out what kind of relationship you are in, so you can be direct about what would be useful for you. This way, you won’t waste their time or your own. 

Figure out what you can do for them

Many people wrongly think of mentorship as a one-way relationship. However, a mentor-mentee relationship can be much more valuable if the exchange is flowing in both directions. What might this look like? 

As a young person at the beginning of your professional career, you have a unique perspective that a person in a more senior leadership position should be interested in if they are concerned with the longevity of their business. After all, you and your friends are (likely) their future users and customers.

Additionally, people who are new to their roles and to the company can often see a new/different way of doing things that is more difficult to see for someone that has been in the same environment for a long time. Therefore, you could actually contribute to future innovation within your company! Do not hold back your ideas, opinions and thoughts when exchanging with your mentor, and you will create a relationship that is mutually beneficial and therefore more likely to be enduring.

Have you ever heard a mentor-mentee relationship that made an impact for you? If so, what made the difference? If you have any tips or advice for cultivating this type of relationship, let us know in the comments!

image shows two men looking at a laptop at a desk

I hope this wonderful advice from Abigail helps you! If you’d like to read more of Abigail’s work, you can find her blog here.

For more careers advice for young adults and graduates, check out my career posts here.

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