As a mentee, gaining insight from someone with more or different experiences is a surefire way to reach your professional goals in a timely manner. What do mentors get out of the partnership? What motivates them to devote time and energy away from their own careers to help yours?
For the mentor, the return on their investment is your growth. They value relationship-building and helping you learn from their past experiences. Mentors take pride in their protégés and consider their mentee’s success a reflection of their own. The best mentees recognize this and present themselves in a way that makes it easy for a mentor to become their greatest ally.
On the other hand, bad mentees lack focus and initiative, and fail to listen or apply anything they learn. They waste both their own and their mentor’s time, burning a few bridges in the process. Rather than thinking through what they’d like to get out of a meeting or the relationship overall, bad mentees approach the mentoring engagement like a checklist: schedule a meeting, give an update, ask a question, schedule the next date.
So, how do you become the kind of mentee every mentor wants to invest in? Well, it doesn’t happen without effort. Here are five ways to increase your mentee equity:
1. Set clear goals. What do you want to get out of the experience and why do you need a mentor? Be able to articulate your objectives – both those for your career in general, and those with your mentor. If you were working with investors on a product or service, you would know your long-term vision for the brand. In this case, the brand is you, so make it clear to your mentor that you have a vision, even if it’s still fuzzy. If you can’t articulate how you’d like a mentor’s help, spend some time taking inventory of your life goals or find a mentor who specializes in visioning.
2. Come prepared. After you’ve established goals, you may feel ready for your first mentoring session, but you must prepare by having an agenda. Consider this: when entrepreneurs meet with venture capitalists, they lay out the plan for the meeting because it means the difference in a great partnership. You will need to do the same with your investor – the mentor. You want to start each session saying, “Here’s what I hope we can accomplish today.” Your mentor will realize you respect their time and will help you to get the most out of it. The intent isn’t to be overly scripted, as some of the most valuable feedback can happen when you’re off script.
3. Listen. Nothing is more frustrating than a mentee who isn’t willing to heed the mentor’s advice or consider their perspective. After repeatedly seeing you not follow suggestions, your mentor will become frustrated with your stubbornness. Demonstrate your active listening by revisiting prior topics and sharing with your mentor how you applied the learning and the outcome. Expect your mentor to want to know “what happened with that thing you last discussed” and be sure to express how their advice was useful. You won’t always see eye-to-eye with your mentor, but you are trying to learn from his or her experience. Time is your mentor’s capital. Don’t waste it.
4. Pay back your investor. Mentors still in the workforce are managing their own careers while helping you with yours. Be interested and supportive of their work by asking simple questions like “What are you working on?” “How can I help?” or “What most concerns you about your work?” Send helpful articles or make book recommendations. These small gestures demonstrate your interest in the relationship beyond your own personal gain. Who knows? It could eventually benefit you in the long run to be considered for roles on your mentor’s team.
5. Be grateful. Say thank you frequently. Skip the “send” button in lieu of a handwritten note. Everyone likes to feel valued, and your tangible expression of how thankful you are for their time and ideas will endear you to a mentor even more. Gratitude is your currency, so be generous.
Natasha Miller Williams is VP of Diversity & Inclusion at Nielsen. Connect with her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natashamillerwilliams or follow her on Twitter: @nlynniewillie.