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Compiled and edited by Julie Tereshchuk
Interested in taking on a long-term mentor? Whether you’ve already been introduced to one or you’re thinking about going through the process, there are a few things to consider before making the jump.
Having been both a mentor and a mentee with WCA and other organizations over the past decade, I’ve gathered some key insights on how mentees can not only maximize the experience for their benefit but create invaluable and long-lasting bonds with their mentors.
Set a Personal Goal
Having a mentor relationship is much more than just meeting someone once. (Although WCA’s mentors are available for one-off meetings, too.) A true mentorship is about having an ongoing experience with someone who can help you reach your goal, and they do this by leaning on their personal experience and expertise and by gathering information from their interactions with you. A good mentor will, over time, recognize patterns that might be obstacles you need to overcome—but you have to know what you want first. Make sure to read WCA’s Demystifying Mentorship for Mentees guide and take some time to look inward. How do you visualize your best self in the future? What’s missing from your career? Are you in the right mindset to commit to this new relationship?
I took on a WCA mentor when I was starting a business in December 2014. I was feeling insecure, and I wanted someone with an entrepreneurial background to guide me through the launch of my business. When I approached my mentor, I told her I wanted to communicate with her monthly for six months, initially. Every meeting, I came prepared with half a dozen questions for her. If we couldn’t meet in person or over the phone, she wrote me wonderfully thorough emails. She told me about the importance of having an attorney and a CPA, she recommended people I should meet and groups I should join, and she gave me advice on how to market and share my work. But most importantly, she was always someone who could validate what I was going through and provide advice on how to navigate how I was feeling when things were rough.
Do Your Homework
Remember that people’s time is valuable; it’s the one thing you can never give back. In addition to getting clear on your purpose, come prepared with questions after researching the mentor you’re meeting with on social media and by doing a quick Google search. How can the person you meet help you reach your goals? Are there specific milestones you’re curious about that might help influence your journey?
When I was contemplating a move to a different industry, a friend recommended I speak to a very influential professional who had limited free time. We started the conversation with some small talk about his career and he stopped me and said, “Tell me exactly what you are looking for so I can best help you in the next 20 minutes.” That’s when the conversation took a meaningful shift. I was direct and vulnerable—and we ended up having an authentic and productive conversation that touched on his past successes and failures, and what I needed to keep in mind if I were to go down a similar path.
He respected how I was able to quickly answer his initial question and that I was taking notes—and even offered to chat longer than I had expected—but we wouldn’t have been able to efficiently get to that point had I not spent time learning about who he was and what he had to offer before our meeting. At the end of the conversation, he offered to stay in touch—and I sent him a thank you card and we connected on LinkedIn.
Every mentor has their own unique approach. If I notice someone feels stuck, I’ll assign them some homework to get them to the next step. Other mentors might recommend books to read—or even someone else a mentee should meet, to get some additional information or a different perspective. The important thing is to have an open mind while respecting basic networking principles along the way. If someone offers you an opportunity that they think would benefit you, challenge yourself to meet it head-on. It could change your life!
After working with my first mentor for several months, she asked me if I could help her plan a couple of happy hour events for the nonprofit board she volunteered with, saying it would be great networking. The events were simple to plan; all I had to do was find a venue and set up the logistics. And I did end up meeting some cool people. A few months later, a staff member from the nonprofit invited me for coffee and asked if I would lead a new giving circle they were designing. (She had probably noticed my leadership potential during these two events.) I accepted the invitation—and years later I benefited by not only greatly expanding my network but helping grow a sustainable giving circle and landing a spot on the board, which I now lead as Chair.
The experience of being a board member has been invaluable, opening many doors in my professional career and cultivating my leadership skills. I’ve also made several incredible contacts. But I would’ve never gotten to that place had I not said “yes” to the opportunities my mentor presented me—and I wouldn’t have gotten there had I not proved I was professional and dependable from the beginning.
Be Memorable: A Tale of Two Interns
I once employed two interns at the same time. One was always on time, full of optimism, and had great follow-through. At the end of her internship, she gave me a plant and a card that said, “Thank you for helping me grow!” The other intern was always late, made excuses, and only did the bare minimum. After the internship, I never heard from her again. Can you guess which one gets glowing referrals from me when she applies for jobs?
Mentors want to know if their investment of time has been fruitful for their mentees. Keep your mentor updated on your accomplishments and what’s happened since your last meeting, in addition to thanking them. Even if the benefits of the mentorship experience bloom months or years later, let your mentor know how the next chapter unfolds as you take on a new job or another set of goals—and they might be able to help you later down the road!
Clarisa Ramirez is a GTM Content Editor/Writer at Slack.