Making the Most of a Mentoring Relationship

You’ve Found a Mentor and They’ve Said “Yes.” Now What?

Both mentor and mentee should discuss the guidelines of their relationship along these lines:

  • Be clear about what you want to gain from each interaction.
  • Always strive for real and meaningful conversations.
  • Mentee: take actions towards the goals you outline with your mentor. Mentor: hold your mentee accountable. Note that the accountability piece can work for both parties, with a mentee learning from observing the mentor’s work accomplishments.
  • Offer updates on successes and challenges along the journey.
  • Be careful to not put one another on a pedestal.
  • Touch base often on the nature of your relationship. If it is not working for one or both of you, adjust the connection so that it is truly beneficial for all.

Communicate Clearly

  • When crafting your messages to your mentor, or when planning for an upcoming conversation, consider your goals for the conversation, prepare questions you’d like to ask, and keep them updated on your progress towards your goals. It’s fine to get off topic, but be sure you accomplish your specific agenda for each conversation.
  • Always remember to show you appreciation for your mentor’s time and wisdom.
  • Keep them updated on your progress and give them credit for the shifts they’ve helped you to implement.
  • Share both your successes and your failures! Don’t be afraid to ask them for help in how you can learn from things that didn’t go well.
  • Where you can, try to be a resource for your mentor. You might offer a college perspective, be someone they can bounce ideas off of, review something they wrote, offer to be an accountability partner, or introduce them to someone in your network who can help them.
  • When you receive a message from your mentor, it is important to reply within 48 hours, so that you can keep the conversation moving.

Solicit Feedback

Be open and receptive to feedback that is offered in a thoughtful and constructive way. If necessary, your mentor can help you understand and articulate your motivations, accomplishments, weaknesses, and more. It’s okay if you don’t know what you don’t know–that’s what the growth process is about.

Feedback, no matter how much we ask for it, can be very difficult to receive. Even when delivered thoughtfully and candidly, it can be hard to hear how we may improve or that others’ perceptions of our behavior do not match our own. However, constructive feedback can be an effective tool for personal and professional growth. So before dismissing feedback as invalid or becoming overly defensive, take a step back and consider what is being said. Good feedback is not about your worth as a person, but about your behavior. (Pro tip: You might establish with your mentor up front how you like to receive feedback.)

More Tips for Receiving and Responding to Feedback

  • Refrain from reacting and responding immediately. If the feedback is particularly difficult to hear, remove yourself from the situation until you can objectively assess the message without focusing on the delivery and how it felt. Consider saying, “Thank you for the feedback. I need some time to think about what you shared before responding.”
  • Ask questions for clarification and summarize in your own words what you heard before you respond. Consider saying, “I would like to be clear that I understood you correctly. What I heard you say was…”
  • Reflect on your own reaction as you process the feedback. Write down your reactions. Are you reacting to the content or the delivery? While it is instinct to react to the delivery, focus on the content of the message: what is really being said?
  • Ask for suggestions, from your mentor or from others, on specific steps you could take to address the feedback. For example, “I hear that you are saying that I need to work on managing priorities. Can you provide me with some examples of how I might approach that?”
  • Be proactive and solicit feedback regarding ways you would like to improve. For example, “I am struggling with time management, and I notice that you do a good job of managing all of the priorities in your life. Can you give me some advice on how to do this better?”

Ending a Connection

There is no set expectation for how long a mentoring relationship should last. After careful consideration, you may find that mentoring is not right for you or that you do not have the time to invest at this point in your journey. It may also be the case that this particular mentor is not a good fit for you. Or perhaps you feel you have gathered the information you sought and would like to end the connection for now. If this is the case, it is important for you to communicate clearly to your mentor about this shift. Be polite and firm. Express gratitude for the time and energy they’ve invested to the connection so far, and then let them know that you would like to end the official mentoring connection.