Mentors can be invaluable at any stage in your career. They can help you determine the right career path, help you get started on that path, or figure out ways to navigate the rough patches along the way. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with a mentor, there are several things you can do to make sure you and your mentor both enjoy the relationship and that you gain as much as you can from this valuable experience.
1. Pick the right mentor
Make sure you select a mentor based on the right reasons. Having a professional athlete as a mentor seems really cool, but unless you are considering playing sports as a career he or she probably won’t be able to offer you the advice you really need to succeed in your career. If you are thinking about starting your own business, find an entrepreneur who has succeeded in building a company from scratch. Are you a female trying to break into a male-dominated field? There are hundreds of successful businesswomen who can tell you about their struggles and how they overcame them. Make sure your mentor’s experience relates in some way to what you hope to achieve professionally.
2. Be respectful of your mentor’s time
Chances are, if someone is mentoring you on your career, that means they have their own successful career full of appointments and deadlines. Keep in mind that they are taking time out of their busy schedule to help you. Unless it is completely unavoidable, don’t cancel meetings with your mentor or ask them to reschedule. It can make you seem unreliable and unappreciative. This is frustrating to your mentor and could lead them to stop mentoring you. It may also hurt your reputation when it comes time to find an internship or a job because mentors are often influential people who are connected to other business people.
3. Keep the relationship professional
Speaking of your mentor being connected, make sure you don’t become too personal with your mentor. You want to be comfortable with them, but remember it’s still a professional relationship. Showing them pictures of your drunken Friday night or talking about the fight you had with your significant other may be pushing the boundary.
4. Let your mentor be a mentor
When you get the opportunity to speak to someone who has been successful, it can be tempting to try to impress them with what you already know. Don’t. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to share your knowledge with someone who won’t let you. Let your mentor do the talking and you do the listening, that’s how you are going to learn. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever say anything. You should definitely ask questions and let them know of your accomplishments, but don’t take over the conversation. You can do that when you are a successful business person and are ready to be a mentor yourself.
5. Be grateful
Always remember that your mentor does not have to be a mentor. They’re choosing to help you because they want to give back and help others succeed. If you have your meetings in a coffee shop or restaurant, pay for their coffee or lunch once in a while. Drop them an email – or better yet, a handwritten note – telling them how much you appreciate them taking the time to meet with you. You may not always agree with everything they suggest, but you should always let them know that you appreciate the input.
6. Don’t stay with the wrong mentor
Sometimes you and your mentor just don’t click. You could realize this during the first meeting, or after six months. If you don’t feel that the relationship is useful, talk to either the organization who matched you or to your mentor directly. Remember, while this relationship is ultimately for your benefit, you also don’t want to waste your mentor’s time if you don’t feel that it’s useful, so everyone will be better off if you tell someone you don’t think it’s working out.
These six steps will help you get the most out of your mentorship and will make the experience pleasant for your mentor too.