Forming a mutually beneficial mentor-mentee relationship
Within my role in the Department of Career Services at University of Phoenix, students often ask me how to find a mentor and the benefit of mentorship. Finding mentorship opportunities is a relevant topic this month, as January is National Mentor Month. But mentorship is not singularly beneficial, meaning that only the mentee can receive positive outcomes from the professional relationship. Rather, mentoring is akin to mutualism, where interaction is mutually beneficial to both involved parties.
To form this type of symbiotic relationship, it takes effort from both the mentor and the mentee. Often, mentees may feel they have nothing to contribute to the relationship or that it is expected that they don’t provide a benefit to the mentor as they are the one receiving support. This is not the case in today’s business world. Even seasoned professionals need support, and often the insight and experience provided by mentees can help them grow both professionally and personally.
If you’re interested in pursuing mentorship opportunities and want to learn how to make the most out of being a mentee, here are a few insights to help you get started.
Goals and expectations
It is helpful to understand what you want to gain from mentorship. This may be as simple as a question about a company or as complex as balancing family needs with work and school. It is easier for others to help when you can identify your needs.
Here are a few common reasons for seeking a mentor:
- To gain clarity and direction on career enhancement or career path
- For motivation and support
- To meet new people and expand your network
- For help navigating professional environments
Reaching out to a mentor
Mentees often express nervousness at reaching out to a mentor for the first time. This is understandable, but be brave! You don’t want to miss out on the benefits of mentorship. If a mentor is too busy, he or she can decline your request and you can find someone else who is available.
It is your responsibility to direct your interactions with a mentor. You will send the first message, set up a time to talk, and contact the mentor at the agreed upon time. Remember, the mentor wants to help you, but you must be proactive and flexible.
If you reach out to someone via social media, be specific about what you want, and ask if they are available to connect with you briefly. A personalized approach can yield better results. Here is an example:
I am hoping to connect with you because of our shared interest in public accounting. I noticed you work at [insert company name]. I’ve been researching [insert company name], and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the culture and work life, as well as the make-up of your typical day. Are you free for a 20-minute chat by video or phone on [insert date and time options]? I look forward to your reply!
First mentoring meeting
During your first meeting, spend a few minutes getting to know the mentor by seeking out common interests, values, and life experiences. At the same time, be sure devote attention to the goals you want to accomplish with your new connection. One call may be all you need, or you may decide that a series of calls or even a formal mentoring relationship would work best. If you decide you want to have more than one conversation gauge the mentor’s openness to that.
Sample questions/statements to build a stronger connection:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What led you to where you are today?
- What is most fulfilling to you in your life/work right now? What is the most challenging?
As you are building your connection, help the mentor understand why you reached out. If you want to do an informational interview or have a list of questions, communicate that. If you are unsure of what you need, communicate your thoughts to help the mentor understand that you may need a more guided approach.
After you connect
Write a brief reflection or summary after each call. This will help you recall your discussion, identify potential follow up topics, and write a thank you email.
Send a thank you message as soon as possible after your discussion. Showing gratitude can go a long way. If you noticed during the call that you could be of help to your mentor, include a statement addressing this. Here are two examples:
- “I know I reached out to you for ____, and I appreciate the wisdom you provided. I also want you to know I am happy to help you with ____.”
- “Your challenges with ____ really resonated with me. If you want some help with it, I am happy to assist by doing ____.”
- Mentors give you their time, so use it wisely. Give notice when you have to cancel on them.
- You drive the relationship; be clear about your needs and take initiative to schedule meetings.
- You are not asking for a job or referral to an open position. These types of “leads” come over time by building strong relationships with people who feel they can confidently vouch for your skills.
- Mentorship is a two-way street. While you sign up for their support, you should offer to help in return, when able.
By Haley Foutch, Senior Manager of Mentorship & Networking Programs