Having a mentor can do wonders for your career. Here's how to build a successful mentor relationship.
- From help navigating difficult decisions to everyday career advice, a mentor can help guide you throughout your career.
- Getting feedback from someone who is successful and more experienced can take your career to the next level.
- To be successful, a mentor relationship requires dedication and commitment from both the mentor and the mentee.
What does a mentor do?
"Everyone needs a confidante ... to go to for advice," said Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at Jobvite. "Whether you seek out your own or are assigned one by your company, having a mentor can be a wonderful asset, no matter the stage you're at in your career."
A mentor helps you build your skills as a leader, a strategist, a consultant or a manager. They can guide you toward making sound decisions that positively affect the trajectory of your career path or in gaining skills needed for your industry. In the entrepreneurial sector, a mentor can help you successfully guide your new business through the pitfalls inherent with being a startup, including funding challenges, paperwork, finding clients, and delivering on projects, for example.
But, like every relationship, building and maintaining a successful mentor relationship isn't effortless.
Building a mentorship relationship
"Building your relationship with your mentor is like job searching – you need to put time, effort and focus into cultivating and growing this relationship," said Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster. "Just as your dream job won't fall into your lap, neither will the perfect mentor relationship."
Check out these six tips for how mentees can build a successful mentor relationship.
1. Identify your goals.
To find an effective mentor, Salemi suggests first identifying your goals – this will help you decide who will be a good mentor for you. You can ask yourself questions like what do you hope to get out of the relationship? What do you anticipate giving?
"The mentor can only provide you with the guidance and support you need once you figure out what that is," Salemi added. "Once you identify your goals, finding the right fit is important, and often comes down to personality and communication style."
2. Get to know your mentor.
To forge any relationship, you need to get to know each other, and Salemi says this is particularly important in a mentor relationship.
"The same rules apply for building a relationship with colleagues as they do for building a mentor relationship," she said. "Try to get to know the person, including learning about their professional background and their personal likes and interests."
The more you know about your mentor, the more they can help you. You can ask them about their professional backgrounds and how they've navigated past career challenges.
3. Follow up.
For the relationship to grow, you need to stay in regular contact with your mentor.
"Be consistent and follow through," Salemi said. "Schedule regular check-ins [such as] a monthly phone call and then face-to-face meetings in person each quarter. In-person meetings are still the most effective way to build a strong relationship!" Remember, your mentor is giving their time out of goodwill. It may be on you to reach out more often and keep that relationship alive.
4. Be prepared.
"Good mentors are attracted to people who are proactive about their career … [are] eager to learn, take interest in the lives of people around them, and look to add value where they can," Bitte said.
Be prepared for every meeting, and show your mentor you're eager to progress in your career.
"Be prepared to have specific agendas," Salemi added. "Each time you speak with your mentor, provide an outline ahead of time of what you'd like to discuss. Be specific so both you and your mentor feel like you've met your objectives by the end of your meeting."
This strategy serves four powerful purposes. It helps you learn something concrete and actionable each time you meet with your mentor. It helps your mentor be prepared to guide you with their best advice. It also helps your mentor believe that you are taking the mentorship seriously and making good use of both your time. Last but not least, it helps the mentor feel good about the work they're doing. That feel-good feeling will strengthen the relationship between you and keep your mentor coming back to the table.
5. Know when it's time to move on.
Career goals and paths change. Mentor relationships aren't designed to last forever, and that's OK. While your mentor will always be a valuable contact, it's important to know when the relationship has run its course.
"Keep in mind that you may outgrow your mentor as needs change over time," Salemi said. "While that mentor may have been amazing in one specific area, they may not be as knowledgeable in another."
6. Thank your mentor.
Thank you goes a long way. Let your mentor know you appreciate their advice and time.
"Be sure to express your gratitude throughout your relationship," Bitte said. "A handwritten thank-you note can make any amount of work worth it."
"Time is important to all of us, and the time your mentor devotes to your meetings, emails, and overall advancement should be appreciated and recognized," Salemi added. "Whether it's a simple email or a handwritten note, point out to your mentor how much you value their input."
How long should a mentoring relationship last?
There is no one-size-fits-all relationship in the mentoring world. If the two of you are working together on your own, the relationship can last as long as is mutually beneficial. Some mentor-mentee relationships last a lifetime and often grow more equitable over time.
If you're part of a more formal mentorship program, there may be time requirements you need to follow, so make sure you're fully informed about your program. Knowing the guidelines also shows that you're a good candidate for mentorship and that you're taking the opportunity seriously. A good rule of thumb is to meet once a month for six months and then reevaluate whether to continue together in your last couple of scheduled meetings.
What are the benefits of mentoring?
A good mentor relationship gives you a powerful resource for advice, strategy and a deeper understanding of the world you're working in. That relationship can guide you through defining and understanding your job role, navigating any problems at work and empowering you to do your best work – which, in turn, can result in promotions in the corporate world or long-term business success in entrepreneurship.
At the same time, the relationship benefits the mentor, too, providing a way for them to feel heard and valued for their experience. The perspective provided by a mentor can elevate your career by helping you to be your best – if you're willing to engage, listen, ask questions and cultivate the relationship over the long-term.