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How to Make the Most of Your Mentorship How to Make the Most of Your Mentorship
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How to Make the Most of Your Mentorship

Jo Eisenhart •  December 8, 2015 | Business and Careers

EisenhartcI have mixed feelings about mentorship. It’s hard to argue with the concept of professional mentorships, and I know I’ve personally benefitted from mentors as my own career has developed. But when I hear people say, “Everybody’s got a mentor, so I better get one, too!” I worry that mentorship can too easily become a career development expectation without a career development purpose.

So when I’m asked about mentoring, here’s the advice I typically offer: Don’t just jump on the mentorship bandwagon without first making sure you stand to benefit from the experience in a meaningful way. The right mentor can have a powerful, positive influence on your career—but only if you’ve taken the time, in advance, to do three things:

1. Be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish with the help of a mentor. Do you want to better understand the company culture and how to maneuver within it? Identify possible career paths? Learn a particular skill, such as how to speak up more clearly and concisely in a leadership team meeting? Once you know what you want to accomplish, you can start your search for a mentor who can help you with your specific objectives.

2. Partner with someone who can offer targeted advice. I once worked for a company that had an online matchmaking system for mentorships. People who were willing to be mentors would list the areas in which they thought they could be helpful, and those who wanted to be mentored would enter what they were looking for. The program would then identify potential matches, and it was up to them—the mentee and the mentor—to decide if they were a good fit for each other.

In my mind, this kind of self-selecting approach has the potential to be much more beneficial for both parties than if the company randomly assigns two people to each other.

If your company doesn’t offer a mentoring program, you can always seek out a mentor on your own. Employee resource groups are a great place to start your search; members of an internal networking group may be able to point you to someone who has already accomplished what you hope to achieve and is willing to share his or her knowledge. Professional associations are another good option.

3. Set expectations for the relationship together. Mentoring is a two-way street. At the outset, agree on how frequently you’ll meet, what you hope to achieve and how you’ll know if you’re making progress. Then, every couple of months, step back and assess the big picture. Is the relationship proving to be valuable? Are you getting what you need? Be honest with your mentor, and ask him or her to do the same. If it’s working, great. If it’s not, make changes; after all, the two of you are setting the expectations! Finally, understand that at some point the mentoring relationship should end.

When mentoring relationships are deliberate and grounded in purpose, they can be beneficial for everyone involved. Mentees can develop the skills, knowledge or insights they need to be effective and grow. The mentor gets the satisfaction of giving back by passing on his or her expertise and may also benefit from “reverse mentoring” on topics the mentee has strengths in. But before you seek out the guidance of a mentor, do your part to ensure the relationship will be meaningful. Know what you want to accomplish, look for a mentor who has the specific expertise to help you achieve your goals, and set the expectations for your relationship—together. 

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