9 Things You Should Do Before Seeking Out a Mentor, If You Want to Get the Most Out of It

mentor and mentee meeting

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June 23, 2024 at 5:55PM UTC

The mentor-mentee relationship can be a powerful bond that will help you learn invaluable insights about yourself, hone your goals and progress in your career.

You may wonder what you can do to be a consummate mentee. It’s not just about impressing your mentor; you also want to make sure you’re getting the most possible out of this relationship since you’re both sacrificing time and effort to cultivate it. 

9 important tips for every mentee.

Want to be an all-star mentee? Here are nine tips to achieve your goal.

1. Find the right match.

First things first: you need to find the right mentor. Not everyone who excels in her field is good at mentoring others. And some mentors might be a good fit for certain mentees and not for others.

Start with your network. That includes higher-ups at work — or even peers, LinkedIn contacts and people you’ve met through industry events and elsewhere. Are there certain people you admire? Is there an established mentoring program at your office? These are good places to look first. 

You should also make an effort to challenge yourself and network beyond your inner circle. Perhaps a contact of an acquaintance has a career you’d love to emulate. Maybe someone you follow on LinkedIn seems like the perfect role model. It takes a fair amount of chutzpah, but reaching out to someone to tell them how much you admire them and asking if you could get a cup of coffee could very well impressive them and lead to a strong, lasting mentor-mentee relationship.

2. Figure out what you’re hoping to gain.

Go into your first meeting with a clear picture of what you want to accomplish. While a mentor can help you figure out the steps you need to take to get there and coach you along the way, her job isn’t to develop goals for you.

Be specific about what you want to gain from this relationship. Perhaps you want to advance to a certain level and need some advice about how to do so. Maybe you’re considering a career change and could use some help deciding whether to make the transition and how to do it effectively. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, as long as you have them.

3. Have realistic expectations.

Here are some things your mentor can’t do: give you that promotion, take your next career step for you or figure out what you want out of life. She can help you clarify your goals, offer support and guidance about next steps to take and offer general advice and support. It’s important to understand this upfront.

Moreover, if you find the perfect mentor, that’s great! But go in without having too high of expectations. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed that the relationship isn’t exactly what you dreamed it would be. 

4. Take responsibility for the relationship.

Mentoring takes a significant amount of time and effort. Recognize the investment your mentor is making and take charge of your own growth by being an active learner, asking questions, practicing new skills, preparing for each session and using the advice and guidance your mentor provides. 

5. Set an agenda.

By the same token, make each session count by having an agenda prepared. This will help you both make the most of your time together. It’s okay if you don’t get to everything on your list — in fact, you should come with more than enough topics prepared just in case some items take less time than you think they will. 

6. Respect your mentor’s time.

Of course, you also need to respect your mentor’s time and not be too demanding. If you can’t get to everything on your agenda, don’t expect her to stay late. Hopefully, you’ll have future sessions to finish.

Remember: your mentor is making a sacrifice by making this effort. She’s investing in you, and that’s a lot of work, given that she’s most likely a very busy person. Show your appreciation by (among other gestures) welcoming advice but not pushing it.

7. Accept and offer feedback.

It can be a blow to your ego when someone offers constructive criticism. But you need to remember that’s pretty much the whole point of this relationship. You want to grow in your career and achieve more out of life, and your mentor is there to help you do so in whatever way she can. That means pointing out areas where you can improve. Be gracious and receptive to feedback and act in it — that’s how you’ll do better.

By the same token, be vocal about your own needs. If you’re not getting what you’d like out of the relationship, tell your mentor so. Or, if the relationship is meeting your needs but you can think of ways where it could be even better, tell her that, too. It’s important that you’re both being honest so you can make the most of the experience. (And don’t forget to tell her what you do appreciate about her help, too!)

What are the benefits of being a mentee?

• Career development.

The most obvious benefit of being a mentee is that it helps you develop your skills and grow in your industry. This is probably why you sought a mentoring relationship in the first place. 

• Networking.

Plenty of people hate networking, but it’s important for finding new opportunities and generally developing in your career. Mentorships can often lead to new connections and contacts.

• An objective perspective.

Your friends at work may tell you you totally deserved that promotion, but your mentor can lend new, objective insights — which can help you look at yourself and your career with a critical eye. 

• A support system.

Work is challenging and exhausting. Your mentor can provide you with much-needed support for facing the demands of your career. For example, if your boss is particularly critical, your mentor can help coach you through the difficult situation and figure out what you can do differently, as well as lend a sympathetic ear. 

• Increased confidence.

See someone who’s doing what you want to do can offer motivation. Moreover, a great mentor will serve as a coach who helps you build skills and tells you what you’re doing right — not just how you can improve. You’ll also learn more about yourself and your strengths.

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