We’re starting to see signs of a light at the end of the tunnel, and with that, new possibilities for what’s ahead. As you think about your next step, maybe you could use some help figuring out what that looks like.
If you’ve landed here, you probably know that a mentor, or even a network of mentors, can give you the support you need to grow your career and prepare for new opportunities. When you’re connecting with someone who’s likely in a senior position and working in a role that you aspire to, it can be intimidating. But if you play your cards right and prepare yourself well, you’ll reap the rewards.
We turned to the experts to find out how to make the most of everyone’s time—your mentor’s and your own.
- Finding and Benefiting from a Mentor with Careercake
- How to be a Good Mentor and Mentee with Emilie Airies
- Being a Good Mentee with Ellen Ensher
Here are three tips to help you prepare for your next mentor meeting so you can get the support you need.
#1 Get clear on what you need
Whether it’s your first meeting with a new mentor, or one of many, the same advice applies: set your objective ahead of time. Pinpoint what you’re struggling with and what you want your mentor to guide you on.
“These meetings are yours. I want you to own it and make sure the meetings cover exactly what it is that you need,” says Aimee Bateman in Finding and Benefiting from a Mentor.
Maybe you have an opportunity to take on a new role in your organization, or you’re returning to the workforce after taking time off, or you’re trying to make a career pivot. Whatever your goal is, prepare for the meeting by thinking about what’s important to you in your personal and professional development:
- What have you enjoyed doing in your previous roles or current role? Why? What did you dislike?
- What do you excel at? And equally, what are your limitations?
- What do you wish you were better at? What do you want to learn?
- Who do you like working with? Who do you prefer not to work with?
- What motivates you? What is a priority for you right now? (e.g. income, flexibility, being your own boss, receiving recognition, etc.)
Taking the time to step back and think about your experience in advance will help you focus your thoughts and give your mentor valuable information to respond to.
#2 Create a connection by asking: ‘Why?’
A mentor is someone you admire. You may want to follow in their footsteps, or at the very least, learn from their experience. To do that, you have to go beyond what they have on their LinkedIn profile or company bio—what they do—and try to get insight into why they’ve made certain choices that got them to where they are today.
In How to be a Good Mentor and Mentee, Emilie Airies explains that ‘why’ questions help you get to the root of people’s values:
- Why did you choose to move from Toronto to San Francisco?
- Why did you choose to leave tech for political campaigns?
- Why did you decide to work at this particular company?
“Then go ahead and share your own ‘why’ too,” says Airies: What motivates you? What are you hopeful for? Why do you identify with their career?
At our core, we all want to connect. And when you’re willing to be vulnerable and go beyond small talk, not only will your meeting be more fulfilling (to both of you!) but you’ll also have created a connection that will last.
If this is your first meeting and you find you are connecting on shared values, Airies says this is the time to “take things to the next level” and close out the meeting with a clear ask. Depending on your goals, you can ask your mentor to review your resume, make an introduction, advise on a project, or another specific ask related to where you most need support.
#3 Figure out what your mentor expects
Many times mentors have specific expectations for proteges, says Ellen Ensher in Being a Good Mentee. She shares a story about Hilde, an experienced politician, who was mentoring Sharon, an aspiring politician:
“Because fundraising skills are so crucial in politics, Hilde told Sharon that she needed to demonstrate her confidence in fundraising before their next meeting. She challenged Sharon to raise $10,000 and share details for how to raise money successfully. Sharon raised the full amount and gained confidence in this important skill. She also earned the respect of Hilde and their relationship deepened.”
If your mentor doesn’t tell you what they expect, don’t be afraid to ask:
- What are your expectations (or hopes or wishes) for this relationship?
- What is your recommendation for my next steps before we meet again?
Most important, be sure to follow up, not only to thank them for their time and advice but also once you’ve completed whatever tasks they recommended. When you show initiative, action, and interest, it goes a long way to build trust, create connection, and validate your commitment to the relationship.