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Having a mentor can be game-changing for a young professional. Being a mentor, on the other hand, can be time-consuming for seasoned leaders who already have a lot on their plates. Here's the good news: Just because you’re the protégée doesn’t mean you can’t make the process run more smoothly. It can make all the difference for a successful experience on both sides.
Whether your company has a structured mentoring program or you’ve just been fortunate enough to catch the attention of someone who can help boost your career, here are six best practices for building a strong relationship with a work mentor.
1. Start Off on the Right Foot
Asking someone to be your mentor can sound like a huge commitment. Sometimes it can be easier to get to yes if you let them know you’re seeking their advice for a specific skill — say, their public speaking acumen or ability to navigate client interactions. (And of course, a sincere compliment never hurts!)
Approach them by asking if you can set up an initial meeting, or have a short phone call and see where it goes. And consider identifying more than one mentor. Having an informal “board of advisors” where you seek advice from different people not only expands your network but also can ease the mentors’ time commitment.
2. Respect Their Time
First, make it easy to meet. Someone who’s successful enough to be an appealing mentor is likely busy with work commitments (not to mention their own life), so offer to meet on their terms, whether they prefer early morning coffee, a Skype interview while on the road or even a “sweatworking” session at a local yoga studio.
Consider designating a set time, such as lunch every third Friday, suggests success coach Michelle Gomez, but be understanding if they need to reschedule. Yes, you might have to move your calendar around, but never make them feel as though they are inconveniencing you. No one wants a protégée who feels entitled to their time.
Always arrive on schedule or a few minutes early, and make sure to respect the ending time as well. If they’ve allotted 30 minutes, watch your time to ensure you get to the topics you were hoping to within that interval.
3. Come to Meetings Prepared
On that note, always have a plan for the meeting, advises Kathryn Bingham, CEO of LEADistics. “Determine what you hope to learn from your mentor before the session and come with thoughtful questions so you can use the time wisely.”
You might even send them a short list of questions and topics you have in mind beforehand, so they can come prepared to discuss. And of course, be sure to take notes during the meeting.
Also, it never hurts to dress up when you meet, suggests Tara Carter, a recruiter with accounting firm Williams, Adley & Company in Washington, DC. Not only do you want to convey your professionalism, but you never know when opportunity might knock. Carter’s mentor once invited her to an industry happy hour as they wrapped up a meeting, where the adviser proceeded to introduce her to other well-connected professionals.
4. Follow Through on Your Discussions
Advisers want to know they’re making a difference, Gomez says, so let them know what you’ve tried — and the results — so they don’t think you’re wasting their time or ignoring their advice.
“Follow up after your meetings with bullet points about the advice they shared and how you plan to implement it,” she suggests. And then make sure to circle back to provide updates on how you’re progressing, based on their input.
5. See How You Can Add Value for Them
You’ve probably heard the concept of “reverse mentoring,” where a younger professional helps an older colleague master new tech or unlock the secrets of a different generation. But even if your mentor has their Instagram stories game on point, there are still ways you can add value. Maybe their teen is in the midst of applying to college; you can share your perspective as a recent grad. Or perhaps you’re tuned into the local volunteer scene and can help connect them with a board that might be worthwhile, suggests business consultant Wayne Strickland.
Listen for company or industry news that might affect your adviser, or email a link to an article they might find interesting so they know you’re thinking about them.
6. Show Appreciation for Your Mentor’s Time
Gratitude goes a long way, Strickland says. Beyond keeping your mentor in the loop with how you’re using their advice, Strickland recommends sending a written thank-you note each time you meet, or even occasionally buying lunch or coffee as a thank you.
And, adds Gomez, make sure to let them know of successes you’ve achieved during your time together, such as landing a coveted project or earning a promotion or raise.
Above all, remember your mentor is going out of their way to help you — so treat the meetings and your relationship accordingly.