Mentoring and Mentorship

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mentoring is a vital part of the learning process as well as crucial to career development in various professions. Yet, many people struggle with how to approach a potential mentor and how to respectfully continue the conversation beyond the initial encounter.  Conversely, potential mentors struggle with what it means to mentor someone and how to negotiate their time and set expectations given competing priorities in their lives.

What many people don’t realize is how flexible a mentorship could be. Mentorship doesn’t have to be like a parent/child relationship. Instead, a mentor can be someone that you can have infrequent, yet impactful contact with.  Even if you only speak to this person once or three times a year, they can still offer valuable guidance and resources.

Once you’ve identified individuals that you want to build a mentorship relationship with, here are some tips for both mentors and mentees:

Advice for people looking for a mentor (mentees):

First, think about your goal/question and frame it in reference to the other person’s experience in order to build a reciprocal relationship.  For instance: “Thank you for your advice on x.  If you’re open to it, I’d appreciate the opportunity to speak with you further on your experiences regarding x.  I realize your time is valuable, so I can meet for coffee or Skype with you for a brief 30 minute conversation whenever you’re available if that works.  If not, I completely understand and thank you for sharing your time with me."

Next, respect a person’s time by preparing in advance when meeting with them and being punctual. Preparing a list of questions and researching the field, organization or contact is a great way to make a good first impression and show the other person that you are a polished professional.

Third, be open and courteous when receiving advice or feedback but also remember to put all the information into context.  Not all experiences are applicable and you don’t have to take someone’s advice just because they offered it.

If you’ve reached out to someone and they haven’t replied within two weeks, it is ok to send a polite follow up email, but be mindful that if you don’t hear back after that, it could mean that the other person is too busy to respond and it may be best to cease trying to contact that person.

You can test the waters by writing a follow up email similar to this: “Dear XX, I just wanted to follow up with you regarding my last email since I hadn’t heard back from you.  I realize that you may be too busy to connect right now but I wanted to let you know that I appreciate your taking the time to respond to me and if I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume that now is not a good time but thank you for all your help regardless.”

Always remember to thank everyone who shares their time and experience with you,  regardless of whether or not it was helpful as everyone’s time is valuable.

Advice for people wishing to mentor:

Encourage a mentee to share their goals at the beginning of the conversation so you can better focus your efforts and make the most of your time together.

It is important to be transparent and clear in your communications and expectations.  For instance, let mentees know what your communication style is in terms of getting back to them on questions.  Additionally, if you have been talking to someone and aren’t looking to create a more in-depth relationship then politely let the other person know by clearly signaling this to them during an appropriate time near the end of your conversation.

For example: “You’ve asked great questions and it sounds like you’re on the right track so far.  I’m glad that I could share my experiences with you and I hope they’ll be helpful to you. I don’t always have the time to help others, so I value brief encounters like ours because I can offer advice but still have time for everything else.  I wish you all the best in the future and if there’s anyone I can refer you to, please just let me know.”

You can choose to help someone simply by agreeing to refer them to one of your contacts or answering a question.  The depth and length of someone’s involvement with a mentee will be unique to each individual. No matter how you choose to help someone your contributions are appreciated by not only the mentee but also serve to create a strong professional community as well.

In the end there is no one way to build a mentorship with someone but if you’d like more help with how to identify a supportive mentor and build a professional relationship, schedule an appointment with an OCPD counselor at (415) 476-4986.