Eight Tips for Getting the Most Out of Mentoring

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Are you getting the most out of your mentoring experience? Many mentees who have mentors with whom they’ve been matched through a formal mentoring program wonder what they should do with their mentors. Below are some suggestions I’ve collected from participants in mentoring programs I’ve facilitated over the years.

1. Spend time with your mentor. While this may seem painfully obvious, you aren’t going to get much out of your mentor if you don’t see her/him. Make sure you have meetings on the calendar, at minimum an hour a month. If you don’t, get some booked. If you and your mentor have a hard time coordinating schedules, make sure you schedule your next three meetings.

2. Articulate your goals and objectives. Your mentor can only help you if your goals are known. Spend time establishing longer term career goals (what do you want to be doing in five years) and then establish with your mentor what your near term objectives are for getting there. If you already established mentoring objectives, pull them out and see how you are progressing.

3. Come to meetings prepared. Don’t show up expecting your mentor to do all of the pre-work. Make sure you have an agenda. Review your notes from the last meeting, including action items. Bring items to discuss (performance reviews, e-mail from colleague, interesting article you’ve read, etc.).

4. Give your mentor feedback. Your mentor will be much more effective if he/she knows whether his/her mentoring is effective for you. If your mentor doesn’t listen enough or tells boring stories that go nowhere, speak up. Don’t waste your time or your mentor’s if things aren’t going how you would like. If things are going well, let your mentor know what is working.

5. Have your mentor observe you in action. The better a mentor knows you, the better she/he can work with you. Find opportunities for your mentor to see you give a presentation, lead a meeting, or participate in a team meeting. This will give your mentor better insight into who you are as well as providing an opportunity for feedback.

6. Ask to observe your mentor. Some people are better showing you how to do something than explaining it. You can learn a lot by watching your mentor in important situations as well as everyday happenings. Sitting in on a meeting might shed light on a part of the organization with which you were unfamiliar.

7. Ask your mentor about his/her goals. While much of the focus of mentoring is on you, your mentor probably has career goals as well. You can learn a lot about your mentor by discussing her/his goals. In addition, your mentor’s goals may give you new ideas for your own career path.

8.  Build your network. The most successful people usually have more than one person to whom they turn for advice. Ask your mentor about people in his/her circle that you might meet. While you may not find others right away who would be good mentors for you, you will be laying the groundwork for possible future relationships while building your own social capital.

Having a person who is willing to be your mentor is a tremendous resource. Make sure you are not using your mentor to duplicate advice you already get from others (i.e., always focusing on current issues). Use your mentor’s experience and wisdom for those big picture questions and goals that you have, and keep your eye on the future.